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About Beyoncé

About a half-hour into her 2019 concert documentary, HOMECOMING, Beyoncé Knowles says, “When I decided to do Coachella, instead of me pullin’ out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture”—in this case, the homecoming rituals of historically Black colleges and universities in the American South. An incredible show, no doubt. But the real impact lay in realizing how few of the millions of people watching her had probably seen anything like it. Of course, this is what Beyoncé does. Few modern pop artists have worked as hard to put the culture and concerns of Black America in front of a broader audience, whether it’s civil rights (“Formation”), Black feminism (“***Flawless,” “Irreplaceable”), the collective pride of HBCU culture (HOMECOMING), or the liberations of disco and house music (RENAISSANCE). Entertainment, yes—but also a kind of ambassadorship. Born in 1981 and raised in Houston, she started singing and dancing as a child. (One teacher, Darlette Johnson, discovered she could sing when she started humming a song and Knowles finished it—a performance the shy Knowles wouldn’t reproduce until Johnson offered her a dollar.) In 1990, she joined Girl’s Tyme, which evolved into Destiny’s Child. Under the management of Knowles’ father, Mathew, they became one of the biggest forces in pop, blending the familiar comforts of the all-girl vocal group with notions of female empowerment, sisterhood, and a refreshingly contemporary mix of pop, R&B, and hip-hop (“Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Say My Name,” “Survivor,” “Soldier”). Her first solo feature was on a track by her future husband, JAY-Z (“’03 Bonnie & Clyde”), marking the beginning of a fertile partnership and a point of enduring public fascination. (The song was also helmed by a rising Chicago producer named Kanye West, who flipped a 2Pac sample—“Me and My Girlfriend”—into a desperado set piece.) From there, Knowles has been more or less unstoppable. As her fame has grown, her sound and approach have only gotten bolder, spawning intimate, relatively experimental albums like BEYONCÉ and Lemonade alongside celebrations like the JAY-Z collaboration EVERYTHING IS LOVE (credited to THE CARTERS) and 2022’s RENAISSANCE, which celebrated the liberated sound of queer disco and house. It isn’t just the music—which has crisscrossed from dancehall to soul ballads to New Orleans bounce to the chopped-and-screwed sound of her native Houston—but also the figure she cuts in the culture. Here’s a woman who sang at a presidential inauguration (2009, the Obamas, Etta James’ “At Last”), revealed her pregnancy in front of an audience of millions (2011, the MTV Video Music Awards, “Love on Top”), and joined ranks with Black Lives Matter (“Formation”) and feminism (“***Flawless”) when her high-profile status had all but exempted her; who name-checked figures like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Audre Lorde, and Cornel West for people who might otherwise not have encountered them. In 2017, she spoke on behalf of transgender rights, and later that year she gave former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, cementing her role as both pop star and public figure. “It was important to me that everyone that had never seen themselves represented felt like they were on that stage with us,” she said in HOMECOMING. “As a Black woman, I used to feel like the world wanted me to stay in my little box. And Black women often feel underestimated,” she explained in the movie. “I wanted everyone to feel thankful for their curves, their sass, their honesty—thankful for their freedom.”

Houston, TX, United States
September 4, 1981
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