Mary J Blige was hailed a trailblazer as she was honoured with a lifetime achievement award.

The R&B star, 48, followed in the footsteps of Whitney Houston, Prince and James Brown as she was recognised at the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards.

Blige was introduced to the stage by Rihanna, who praised her for opening “multiple doors for female artists in this industry”.

Taking to the stage to accept her prize, Blige said: “People always ask ‘how do I sustain and stay relevant in this industry?’. It’s because even though I am the leader, a queen, a living legend, although I’m all these things, I’m a servant as well and I’m here to serve.

“Being a servant isn’t always glamorous or popular, but it’s the job and assignment I was given. In order to be an authority, I had to learn to come under authority. It’s because when the glory is placed on me, I give it back to God immediately.

“This journey has always been bigger than me and my mission is not only just to survive, right now it’s to thrive and continue to make history while I do it.”

Blige thanked BET, her parents, siblings and friends, as well as her fans, saying “words cannot express how grateful I am to have you in my life”.

She then performed a medley of her biggest hits, including No More Drama and Just Fine.

Mary J Blige
Mary J Blige described herself as a ‘servant’ at the BET Awards (Mark Von Holden/Invision/AP)

Blige’s career, spanning four decades, has seen her become one of the most successful singers of her generation, selling more than 80 million records around the world and winning nine Grammy Awards.

She made history at the 2018 Academy Awards by becoming the first person nominated for acting and songwriting in the same year, for her work on Netflix film Mudbound.

BET’s lifetime achievement award was introduced in 2001 and recognises “extraordinary” contributions to music.

The BET Awards celebrate black entertainers.