Born on September 4th, 1981 in Houston, Texas, Beyonce Giselle Knowles showed promise of superstardom by the age of six.
The daughter of Mathew Knowles, an employee of Xerox, and Tina Beyonce-Knowles, a salon owner, Beyonce showed promise of not just being an extraordinary singer, but a world-class performer when she came home from school and dazzled her mother, Tina, with a new song she’d learned, staring at her mother intently as she sang (Taraborrelli, 2015).
Cutting her teeth in beauty pageants throughout Houston, Texas, Beyonce used the “stage” to overcome her naturally bashful nature. Her father, Mathew, took note of his daughter’s ability to simultaneously perform and execute rigorous dance routines, as well as young Beyonce’s naturally competitive nature, willingness to hear harsh criticism, and harness that energy into improvement rather than the usual pitfalls of child beauty pageants.
Through her childhood, Beyonce had an especially difficult time with other young girls, specifically as it related to her race. Her mother Tina is French-Creole from Louisiana; her father Mathew is African American from Gadsen, Alabama.
Due to her light skin tone, Tina noticed Beyonce would be picked on for being “too dark” or “too light,” in her younger years (Taraborrelli, 2015). Tina encouraged Beyonce to pursue pageants and performing to build her confidence. In no time at all, Beyonce’s talent had made a distinct impression on Houston.
At the age of eight, Beyonce impressed two women named Denise Seals and Deborah Laday. The two women had been searching for young girls to form a group called “Girl’s Tyme” given the popularity of En Vogue.
Seals and Laday arranged for the all-female revue to perform in at Prairie View at Texas A&M University, with as many as 2000 attendees for one show. During this time, an eight-year-old Beyonce performed alongside future Destiny’s Child members Kelly Rowland and LaTavia Roberson. Girls Tyme was eventually featured on Star Search.
In 1995, Beyonce’s father Mathew Knowles became the group’s full-time manager, leaving his lucrative position at Xerox. This gamble paid off in 1996 when the girls began recording their first studio album with Sony Records under Mathew’s management.
Beyonce’s father changed the name of the girl-group to Destiny’s Child, releasing their first hit single, “No, No, No,” in November of 1997. With their self-titled debut album, Beyonce and Destiny’s Child established themselves among R&B crowds, though the album itself was only moderately successful.
In 1999, the group released their second studio album, “The Writing’s On The Wall,” which included what are now considered staples in the R&B genre such as “Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Say My Name,” and “Jumpin’, Jumpin.” After launching a successful group, two members—Latoya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson both left Destiny’s Child over disputes of management by Mathew Knowles. The group replaced their original members with Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin, though Franklin was later dismissed that year and never replaced, leaving Knowles, Rowland, and Williams to headline as Destiny’s Child.
In 2000, Destiny’s Child recorded and released “Independent Part 1” on the Charlie’s Angels soundtrack, becoming the group’s most successful track to date, topping the Billboard 100 for eleven straight weeks.
In May 2001, Destiny’s Child released their third album, “Survivor” and were then sued by Luckett and Roberson stating that the songs on the album including the title track were aimed at them.
After releasing a Christmas album in 2001 titled, “The 8 Days of Christmas,” Destiny’s Child temporarily disbanded with the remaining members wanting to explore their careers solo. This proved to be Beyonce’s most crucial career decision as it allowed her to stand center stage for the first time in her career. However, all three members of Destiny’s Child promised their fans they would record at least one more studio album.
Dangerously In Love/Jay-Z
Beyonce’s first solo project was with her future husband, Jay-Z, in 2002 when the two recorded and released, “03 Bonnie and Clyde,” combining Beyonce’s soulful voice on catchy hooks alongside Jay-Z’s already signature rap style.
While it is known that Beyonce and Jay-Z eventually married, Beyonce, keeping up the same clear boundaries between her personal and professional life, has rarely spoken publicly about the two’s courtship, only stating they pair were friends for years prior to any romantic involvement.
In June of 2003, Beyonce released her first solo album “Dangerously in Love” featuring the now-classic “Crazy in Love” which would become her signature song. The album would eventually sell over 11 million copies and featured the hits “Naughty Girl” and “Me, Myself, as well as “Baby Boy,” establishing Beyonce as an industry in and of herself.
Though met with roaring commercial solo success, Beyonce held true to her word and reunited with Destiny’s Child for the final album the group has released to date. “Destiny Fulfilled” was released on November 15th, 2004, and included hits “Soldier” and “Lose My Breath.” The group embarked on a worldwide tour and announced they would disband after its end.
On her 25th birthday, Beyonce released her second solo album “B’Day” in 2006. The lead single “Déjà vu” again featured Jay-Z. Hits like “Get Me Bodied” and “Ring the Alarm” were recognized on a commercial and critical level, with the album gaining space in the top five Billboard 100 and resulting in five Grammy nominations.
Easily the most recognizable track, “Irreplaceable” became a fan-favorite and the tone of the album showed a maturity in Beyonce’s view of romantic relationships. Gone were the days of being “Dangerously in Love.” The album’s tone is steeped in resentment, jealously, and slight obsession.
“I am…Sasha Fierce” and Marriage
In 2008, Beyonce allowed her alter ego, Sasha Fierce, to come into the light. Having a naturally shy nature, Beyonce had harnessed an alter ego to overcome her reluctance to be the center of attention during her “Dangerously in Love” tour some five years prior.
The album contained a few hit singles such as “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” and the pop track “Halo.” The album was a commercial success but was not met with the same critical praise as her previous solo albums. In “If I Were A Boy,” Beyonce explores the nuances of gender and infidelity. The album’s overall tone was softer than B’Day and far more soulful.
On April 4th, 2008, Beyonce married Jay-Z in a very private ceremony with Beyonce’s mother, Tina, having designed her wedding dress. The couple has remained overwhelmingly protective of their personal life, rarely even acknowledging their marriage outside of specific and controlled mediums.
On June 28th, 2011, Beyonce had just made history two days prior by being the second female to headline at Glastonbury and released her fourth solo studio album, 4. The album contained the anthem “Run The World? (Girls)” with the video containing apocalyptic themes of feminism and decidedly African dance moves, showing a shift in Beyonce’s style from mainstream to Black-centeredness. This shift would play out in the years to come through her various projects.
Beyonce, ever in control of her image, released a documentary on February 16th, 2013 wherein she laid bare her struggles with previous miscarriages and relished in her new role as a mother to her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter who was born January 7th, 2012.
During this film, viewers also learn that Beyonce’s relationship with her father and former manager, Mathew Knowles, has become strained with the star severing their professional relationship in March of 2011 after allegations of theft were leveled against the Knowles patriarch.
Beyonce For the Win
Formulas for success in the music industry have been consistent—stars create a product they hope will meet the expectations of their fans and critics alike, the album is promoted, interviews are granted, and the artist is asked about their process, their personal life, and their plans.
On December 13th, 2013, Beyonce singlehandedly changed the format for promotion by eliminating it altogether. Her fifth eponymous album was dropped on iTunes with no prior promotion, no awkward interviews on colorful couches, or magazine covers. The album sold one million digital copies in six days—the untested formula had worked.
The album, comparatively darker than her previous releases, delves into the complexity of Black womanhood for mothers, daughters, friends, and wives. Gone were the days of shy Beyonce; instead the artist placed herself squarely in control of her life and career, refusing to succumb to any expectations held by labels, managers, or press.
The gamble paid off with Beyonce releasing mega-hits such as “Drunk in Love” and “Partition.” With music that gives Black women agency over their lives released in a non-traditional manner, Beyonce established herself as an icon and gamechanger.
In June of 2014, along with husband Jay-Z, Beyonce launched a worldwide “On the Run” tour which grossed 109 million and boasted 21 shows, ending in September 2014.
After remaining comparatively quiet for a year, Beyonce released her single “Formation” on February 6th, 2016 again with no prior promotion.
The video, which was released on Jay-Z’s owned streaming platform “Tidal,” and was free to download, ushered in a new era of being Beyonce. Gone were the sequin-clad costumes, high-end productions, and carefully coiffed aesthetics. Formation, unlike previous releases, was decidedly focused African-American experiences in the South.
Instead of her traditional blonde relaxed hair, fans see Beyonce with her hair in tight braids or natural. Extracting the Black narratives of her lineage, Beyonce takes ownership of the antebellum South and gives the narrative of Southern Gothic squarely back to the Black women from which history took it.
In April of 2016, Beyonce released her “visual” album Lemonade, with Formation as its closing track. The album details a narrative of betrayal, Black womanhood, forgiveness, and frustration at systemic racism and exclusion.
The film and album were released exclusively on Tidal—a surprise move on the part of Beyonce given the laid-bare themes of her husband’s infidelity serve as the connecting thread throughout the album.
While dance hits like “Formation” are a staple of Beyonce’s catalog, songs like “Hold Up” show a fun, but suspicious side to the artist, sampling lyrics from the “Yeah Yeah Yeah’s” along with a sampling of Led Zeppelin’s classic “When the Levee Breaks” in “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” The album’s complexity coupled with genre-crossing nuance made it at once specific and universal.
Beyonce followed up the release of Lemonade with the Formation World Tour in 2016, which grossed over 256 million. Lemonade became the best-selling album of 2016. With this new format and uncharacteristic vulnerability, Beyonce’s career moved from popular and successful to a galvanized model for artists who want total creative control.
Everything is Love
After releasing “Lemonade,” Beyonce fans were left to wonder about the state of the marriage between Jay-Z and Beyonce. The Carters, though, released a joint album titled “Everything is Love” on June 6th, 2018 with the lead single “Apeshit.”
The video for “Apeshit” keeps with Beyonce’s previous leanings on rich visual narratives, showing The Carters standing squarely amongst priceless pieces of art like the Mona Lisa.
The album shows the complex nature of the relationship between the two stars, revealing a vow renewal that followed Jay-Z’s previous infidelities. The album was dropped on the final night of the couple’s On the Run II tour, capping off what appeared to be a full reconciliation following the birth of their twins and the release of “Lemonade.”
Beyonce was scheduled to make history again in 2017 when it was announced that she would be headlining the famed Coachella Music Festival later that year. However, after becoming pregnant with twins, Beyonce was forced to postpone her performance, though she was slated to be only the second female headliner.
On June 13th, 2017, Beyonce gave birth to twins Rumi and Sir Carter. Beyonce later detailed that her pregnancy with the twins was not an easy one, with high weight gain coupled with pre-eclampsia that left her with no choice but to proceed with a cesarean section in which her abdominal muscles would be cut to reduce the risk for both mother and children.
However, not long after giving birth to both Rumi and Sir, Beyonce was back at work, planning her comeback and a way to use her Coachella performance as a platform to highlight Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
After nine months of practice which included rearranging all the feature music and rehearsals with up to 200 stage performers, Beyonce finally took the stage at Coachella on April 14th, 2018 to headline the music festival and was met with immediate praise. Donning a costume similar to Queen Nefertiti, Beyonce decidedly placed Blackness into the cultural conversation, using the historic platform to highlight the significance of HBCUs.
On April 17th, 2019, Beyonce released footage of her Homecoming performance at Coachella via the streaming platform Netflix along with a full live album on all streaming platforms—a relatively unexplored format in 2019 with contemporary artists.
The album featured previously unreleased bonus tracks like “I Been On” and also contains a stirring rendition of “Lift Evr’y Voice and Sing,” long regarded as the Black national anthem. The album also contains collaborations with husband Jay-Z along with reuniting Destiny’s Child.
Having acted in various films in the past, Beyonce signed on to voice Nala in Disney’s remake of “The Lion King.” The film, released July 19th, 2019, was met with critical acclaim. The film boasted a musical soundtrack that was released along with an album entitled “The Lion King: The Gift,” which featured an original song “Spirit” by Beyonce with the whole album falling solely under her creative control.
Black Is King
Having established herself as one of the most dominant Black voices in entertainment, Beyonce once again used her stardom to highlight the Black experience during a time when civil unrest had become the new normal following the death of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.
Echoing the desires of many Black Americans to have some sort of cohesive ancestral narrative which is often lacking due to the nature of the slave trade, Beyonce wrote, produced, and directed a film called “Black is King” and released on July 31st, 2020 via streaming platform Disney +. Beyonce describes the piece as a “celebratory memoir of the Black experience,” deconstructing the differing customs of Africa’s countries, all of which are too often conflated in film, television, and music.
The film is dedicated to her son, Sir Carter, and features songs “Mood 4 Eva” and “Already” which highlights the transcendence of Black royalty from historical and progressive perspectives.