Celebrating Black History: Beyoncé

This article is just one in a series celebrating Black individuals, groups & events throughout the month of February in honour of Black History Month. While there are numerous significant Black artists, Beyonce is the Queen and therefore has earned her own article.

Early Life & Destiny’s Child

Beyoncé Knowles (Beyoncé) was born on September 4, 1981, in Houston, Texas where she competed in and won many talents shows with her dancing and singing – impressing audiences from an early age. When Beyoncé was 9 years old, she was at an audition, and there she met LaTavia Roberson. That’s when Beyoncé’s father, Mathew Knowles began developing an act for the 2 girls, based on their singing and rapping, and even coined them Destiny’s Child after a passage from the Book of Isiah. In 1992, Beyoncé’s cousin Kelendria (Kelly) Rowland joined the group, after which the trio secured a spot on Star Search where they performed a rap song. Letoya Luckett joined the group the following year in 1993, making the trio a quartet. The foursome then spent the following years working their way up in Houston’s club scene – eventually opening up for artists like SWV, Dru Hill, and Immature. In 1997, Destiny’s Child was offered a recording contract by Columbia.

Figure 1 – Destiny’s Child trio in studio / Figure 2 – Destiny’s Child quartet

Destiny’s Child made its recorded debut on “Killing Time” in 1997, a song that was featured on the Men in Black soundtrack. The group’s self-titled debut album was released the following year, featuring production by Wyclef Jean and a number of other notable individuals. The album’s lead single “No No No” was an instant hit, selling over a million copies and finding itself at the top of the R&B charts. Unfortunately, the group’s follow-up singles like “Get on the Bus” weren’t as popular, leading the quartet to go back to the studio, bringing in a new producer to handle the bulk of their next album. Their next lead single “Bills, Bills Bills” became the group’s #1 pop hit, and 2nd R&B hit in 1999. In the wake of this success, the hit’s accompanying album The Writing’s on the Wall, entered the charts at #6 upon its release. “Say My Name” was an even bigger hit for Destiny’s Child, hitting #1 on both the pop and R&B charts for 3 weeks each in early 2000, making the group a pop culture phenomenon. That is until the group began falling apart at the peak of “Say My Name”‘s popularity (see figure 4).

Figure 3 – Destiny’s Child Charlie’s Angels / Figure 4 Say My Name Album

In December 1999, Roberson and Luckett tried to split from their manager, Mathew Knowles, stating he had too much control over the group’s money and career and felt he was unfairly favouring his daughter Beyoncé and niece Kelly. While Roberson and Luckett never planned to leave the group, tensions quickly rose, and when the video for “Say My Name” was released in February 2000, both fans and the 2 members of the group were surprised to find 2 new members – Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin – joining Beyoncé and Rowland. Angered by the turn of events, Roberson and Luckett took legal action the following month, suing both Mathew Knowles and their former group members for breach of partnership and fiduciary duties, causing a frenzy in the press. Meanwhile, Destiny’s Child’s single, “Jumpin’ Jumpin’” hit the top 10 and the album The Writing’s on the Wall sold over 8 million copies.

However, the group member turnover drama continued – in July 2000, only 5 months after joining Destiny’s Child, Farrah Franklin split with the group. The official reason was that Franklin missed several promotional appearances and concerts – however, later on in interviews, Franklin spoke about too much negativity and too little control when it came to the group. Soon after, the remaining trip was asked to record the theme song for the Charlie’s Angels film (see figure 3), released as a single in October, “Independent Woman, pt. 1” flew to the top of the charts, and spent an unprecedented 11 weeks at #1. At this point, Destiny’s Child were superstars – they were the biggest female R&B group on the scene. Meanwhile, towards the end of 2000, Roberson and Luckett dropped the portion of the lawsuit aimed at Rowland and Beyoncé in exchange for a settlement, while they continued pursuing legal action against Mathew Knowles. However, part of the agreement was that none of the parties involved were allowed to speak about the situation publicly.

Figure 5 – Destiny’s Child Survivor / Figure 6 – Destiny’s Child Survivor Dance Mixes

Beyoncé had been the group’s focal point for a while, and on the 3rd Destiny’s Child album she took on more responsibility than ever, taking on a greater role in writing the material and even producing some of the records herself. Survivor, which was apparently inspired by a DJ’s public diss about Destiny’s Child members “voting one another off the island” much like the reality series with the same name, hit in 2001, entering the charts at #1. The first 2 singles, “Survivor” and “Bootylicious” were enormous hits, with “Bootylicious” becoming the group’s 4th #1 pop single, and the album sold over 4 million copies. Near the end of the year, the group released a holiday album, 8 Days of Christmas, and announced their plans for a series of side projects including solo albums from all 3 members. In early 2002, Roberson and Luckett sued the group again, claiming that some of the lyrics in “Survivor” referenced the women, which was in direct violation of their previous lawsuit settlement.

Figure 7 – Austin Powers Goldmember / Figure 8 – Destiny’s Child Destiny Fulfilled Album

The first Destiny’s Child solo album was released by Michelle Williams’ gospel project, Heart to Yours was released, featuring a duet with legend Shirley Caesar. In the meantime, Beyoncé landed a leading role opposite Mike Myers in the 3rd Austin Powers film, Goldmember, playing Foxy Cleopatra, and her first solo single “Work It Out” appeared on the soundtrack (see figure 7). This was followed up by her full solo album, Dangerously in Love, which became a hit upon its release in mid-2003. While there was significant speculation at the time about whether or not the trio would reunite after their solo projects, the following year they released their final album, Destiny Fulfilled, in November 2004 (see figure 8). In October 2005, the #1’s compilation was released, followed up by the Live in Atlanta DVD and CD sets in 2006 & 2007. The women continued to have solo careers, but chose to reunite in 2012 to record a new song produced by Pharrell, called “Nuclear” for the Love Songs compilation, which was released in January 2013 – just before the group’s performance at the Super Bowl.

Post-Destiny’s Child

Figure 9 – B’Day Album / Figure 10 – Dreamgirls sparkling performance / Figure 11 – Dreamgirls Movie Poster

In her solo career, Beyoncé continued to be successful with her second album, B’Day, featuring the hit “Irreplaceable” in 2006 (see figure 9). Meanwhile, she also starred in a role on the big screen opposite Jennifer Hudson, Jaime Foxx and Eddie Murphy in the hit musical Dreamgirls, a movie inspired by the real-life story of Diana Ross and the Supremes (see figures 10 & 11). In 2008, Beyoncé married rapper Jay-Z, in a private ceremony in New York City; but becoming a wife didn’t slow Beyoncé down one bit. That same year, she promoted her latest album, I am… Sasha Fierce, included some of her biggest hits, such as “Single Ladies (Put A Ring on It)” and “If I Were a Boy.” In 2008, Beyoncé just kept going, returning to the screen that year in her role as R&B legend Etta James in Cadillac Records. The following January, Beyoncé sang Etta James’ most popular song, “At Last,” for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at his inaugural ball.

Figure 12 – Beyoncé as Etta James / Figure 13 – Beyoncé & Etta James

In addition to acting and performing, Beyoncé ran a clothing line called House of Deréon with her mother Tina Knowles, a ready-to-wear fashion line with the style and concept inspired by 3 generations of women in their family, with the name “Deréon” paying tribute to Beyoncé’s maternal grandmother Agnèz Deréon. Unfortunately, in 2012 the junior line was discontinued. In addition to the House of Deréon, Beyoncé launched her own fragrance, Heat, in 2010, and continued serving as a spokesperson and model for a number of brands.

Figure 14 – House of Deréon Ad / Figure 15 – Beyoncé in House of Deréon at the Oscars

In 2010, Beyoncé found herself in a difficult spot after performing a private concert on New Years’ Eve for Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi. After public dissent about the performance, she donated her fee from the event to the victims of the Haitian earthquake and reported that her father was responsible for the show. In March 2011, she decided to drop her father as her manager, and later that year, she reached the top of the album charts with her latest release, 4.

Awards & Super Bowl Performances

At the 2010 Grammy Awards, Beyoncé walked away with 6 awards – the most wins in a single night by a female artist at the time. That same year, she also tied the record for the most #1 hits on Billboard’s Pop Songs chart – which is based on radio airplay. In 2011, she made the Forces Top 10 list of entertainment’s highest-earning women, and by 2013, she had won a total of 16 Grammys. In February 2013, Beyoncé performed at the Super Bowl halftime show, where she wowed the crowd, and was even joined by her former Destiny’s Child groupmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams for parts of her performance. That night she also announced her next major tour starting in the spring of 2013.

Figure 16 – Beyoncé with awards 2010 Grammy’s / Figure 17 – Destiny’s Child Super Bowl 2013 / Figure 18 – Award Acceptance 2010 Grammy’s

Beyoncé broke records once again in December 2013, with the release of her 5th studio album, self-titled Beyoncé. The album surprised both fans and critics, as there had been no promotion for the album prior to its release. The record has been dubbed a “visual album” and was released exclusively via iTunes, with CDs available for purchase. The album was record-breaking, selling more than 800,000 copies throughout the weekend it was released alone. This collection, which was the quickest-selling album ever distributed by iTunes, was also Beyoncé’s 5th studio album to debut at #1, making her the first woman to reach #1 on the Billboard 200 with her first 5 albums. The Platinum Edition of the album was released in 2014, and won more than 3 additional Grammys in 2015, including the Best R&B Performance award for “Drunk in Love.”

Figure 20 – Album Release Party / Figure 19 – Beyoncé Album/ Figure 20 – Formation Music Video

In February 2016, Beyoncé was asked to return to the Super Bowl stage once again. During this performance, she appeared with Bruno Mars and Christ Martin from Coldplay while highlighting her new single “Formation.” Once again, during her performance, she announced her next upcoming tour. The fierce song, coupled with its powerful video and accompanying halftime show, attracted a wave of attention for political lyrics and imagery.

Lemonade & The Carters

Only 2 months after Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance, she released the hour-long conceptual film, Lemonade, which presented music from the album of the same name released immediately after. The film and album showcased the personal evolution that Beyoncé’s marriage underwent after learning of the betrayal of her partner, while simultaneously illustrating the strength of Black women. Lemonade, the album, was only initially available via the online streaming platform Tidal and became available on iTunes and Amazon with the accompanying film soon after. There were a number of contributors to this project, including Jack White, The Weeknd, James Blake, and Kendrick Lamar. Lemonade made its debut at #1; this made Beyoncé the only artist in history to have all of her first 6 studio albums reach the top of Billboard’s album charts.

Figure 21 – Lemonade B&W Braids/ Figure 22- Baseball bat / Figure 23 – Lemonade Cover

In 2018, 1 year after cancelling a planned appearance at Coachella due to her pregnancy, Beyoncé took the stage for a highly anticipated performance at the April 2018 festival. As the first Black woman to headline the event, Beyoncé took the stage by storm, wowing both attendees and critics with her amazing voice and moves, performing fan favourites like “Crazy in Love.” She was also joined during her 2-hour set by her husband Jay-Z, her sister Solange, and her old Destiny’s Child group mates, Rowland and Williams. In June 2018, Beyoncé and Jay-Z began the European stretch of their 48-date tour. While on tour, the couple surprised fans with the release of their joint album, Everything is Love, following their London show on June 16th. The album was originally available for streaming exclusively via Tidal and included a music video for the track “Apeshit” which featured the couple and dancers amongst the world’s famous works of art in the Louvre in Paris.

Figure 24 – The Carters Mona Lisa/ Figure 25- The Carters Record / Figure 26 – The Carters Louvre

The Lion King & Other Joint Projects

In April 2019, Beyoncé releases a documentary titled Homecoming, and a surprise companion album consisting of 40 live tracks from her Coachella performance. In this documentary, she not only takes viewers behind the scenes of Coachella but also takes them home with her, giving them a chance to see her as her most vulnerable. From dealing with her unexpected pregnancy, and figuring out how to be a wife and a mother, to be an international sensation.

Figure 27 – Homecoming yellow hoodie Figure 28- Homecoming Pink Jersey

July 2019 brought with it the premiere of Disney’s live-action version of The Lion King, which featured Beyoncé as Nala, the best friend and love interest of the main character Simba, played by Donald Glover. Beyoncé also curated and produced a companion album for the film, titled The Lion King: The Gift, and released the single “Spirit” around the time of the release of the film.

The following year in April of 2020, Beyoncé joined rapper Megan Thee Stallion on a remix of “Savage” with proceeds going to coronavirus relief efforts in both women’s hometown of Houston. Two months later, in June 2020, Beyoncé surprised fans once again by releasing the song “Black Parade” in honour of Juneteenth. The powerful song was nominated for 4 Grammy Awards in 2021. The following month, Beyoncé directed, wrote and executively produced the visual album Black is King, which reimagines the “lessons of The Lion King for today’s young kings and queens in search of their own crowns.”

To read more of our Black History Month spotlights, see here.

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