Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter – known as simply Beyoncé or Queen Bey to the Beyhive – was born in Houston, Texas 39 years ago, today. In other words, it’s Bey’s B-Day, which is a cause for global celebration. There are few women, even royals, who approximate the astronomical level of awe that is lavished on Beyoncé, but it would be hard to argue that she doesn’t deserve every bit of it. As one of the world’s most powerful (and powerfully talented) performers, she has been sending us into fits of joy for over two decades – and counting.
At this stage in her superstardom, Beyoncé’s childhood is a well-documented canon. Growing up in Houston, the daughter of Matthew and Tina Knowles showed musical promise from the start. It wasn’t long before she was winning talent shows and singing in choir, but when she was just eight years old, she tried out for an all-girl entertainment group along with her friend Kelly Rowland. The two met LaTavia Roberson at the audition, and the three formed the group Girl’s Tyme and performed on Star Search. In 1994, Beyoncé’s father began managing the group full-time, and Girl’s Tyme began recording its debut album with Sony Music in 1996, after which the band’s name changed to Destiny’s Child.
While Destiny’s Child’s first major debut was on the soundtrack for Men in Black in 1997 with the single “Killing Time”, it was later that year when it released its self-titled album featuring the hit single “No, No, No” that the band started to become a household name. Its success continued with anthemic hits like “Bills, Bills, Bills”, “Jumpin’ Jumpin'”, and “Say My Name”. However, the more successful the group got, the more tumultuous the relationships between its members and its manager, Matthew Knowles – a.k.a. Beyoncé’s father.
Eventually, Roberson and LeToya Luckett left Destiny’s Child because of Matthew’s mismanagement, which caused Beyoncé to spiral into a depression that lasted more than a year because the media consistently blamed her for the split. Although Destiny’s Child didn’t officially disband until 2005, Beyoncé embarked on her solo career in 2003 with the release of Dangerously in Love, which quickly achieved multi-platinum success. By 2008, she had developed an alternate personality, Sasha Fierce, around the same time that it was revealed she had secretly married rapper and producer Jay-Z. Over time, between Destiny’s Child and her solo career, Beyoncé has scooped up a staggering 23 Grammy Awards.
Beyoncé’s meteoric rise from lead vocals of Destiny’s Child to breaking out solo in 2003 with Dangerously in Love is well-charted, but to focus solely on her musical career would miss her incredible talent for creating intense and poetic visual albums, her eye-popping dance skills, her passion for elevating black art, her talent for reinventing herself, her outspoken feminism, her honest take on motherhood, and even her career as an actor in films like Austin Powers in Goldmember, Cadillac Records, and Dream Girls.
In addition to her career as a singer/songwriter, producer, dancer, fashion designer (see the former House of Deréon, which she designed with her mother, and her current sportswear line Ivy Park) and actor, Beyoncé enjoys side hobbies like painting, supported by an engaged interest in art. She has cited Kara Walker, Tracey Emin, Aaron Young, Ed Ruscha, and Donald Judd as inspirations, and always visits art galleries and museums when she travels.
Beyoncé is also outspoken in support of people of color, and has even come under fire for dedicating some of the visuals in her music videos and dance routines to the Black Panther Party and the Black Lives Matter movement. She credits her mother, Tina, for teaching her to elevate and empower black voices. At the Wearable Art Gala fundraiser, she shared, “My mother just praised being black, and made sure that we were proud and very aware of our roots. We saw how beautiful and profound black women were. And how different we were, how you couldn’t put us in one box. And how it was all black and beautiful!”
Beyoncé has also proven to be a sharp and intuitive businesswoman. She famously turned down a $6 million payment for a performance at Uber headquarters, requesting to be paid in stock instead. That single performance and the stock payment has resulted in a $300 million investment. She also negotiated with Netflix to turn her performance at Coachella (for which she was paid $4 million) into a $60 million, multi-film deal.
Additionally, she has been vocal about the difficulties of balancing her busy schedule with motherhood, and spoke transparently about the life-threatening circumstances surrounding her last pregnancy with twins Sir and Rumi, who were delivered via emergency C-section. Beyoncé is also an unapologetic feminist, who wants delivered the following powerful call to action:
“I’m not really sure people know or understand what a feminist is, but it’s very simple. It’s someone who believes in equal rights for men and women. I don’t understand the negative connotation of the word, or why it should exclude the opposite sex. If you are a man who believes your daughter should have the same opportunities and rights as your son, then you’re a feminist. We need men and women to understand the double standards that still exist in this world, and we need to have a real conversation so we can begin to make changes. Ask anyone, man or woman, ‘Do you want your daughter to have 75 cents when she deserves $1?’ What do you think the answer would be?
When we talk about equal rights, there are issues that face women disproportionately… Working to make those inequalities go away is being a feminist, but more importantly, it makes me a humanist. I don’t like or embrace any label. I don’t want calling myself a feminist to make it feel like that’s my one priority, over racism or sexism or anything else. I’m just exhausted by labels and tired of being boxed in. If you believe in equal rights, the same way society allows a man to express his darkness, to express his pain, to express his sexuality, to express his opinion – I feel that women have the same rights.”
On top of all of Beyoncé’s talent, social causes, passions, values, and vision, she is also regarded as a style icon. Early in her career, most of her looks were created by her mother, but she became a red carpet queen by committing to a fairly predictable template. She tends to prefer clinging silhouettes and mermaid skirts, occasionally enhanced by cut-outs, glittering embellishment, and other textures. We’ve rounded up her best red carpet moments in the gallery below – in celebration of her birthday, of course.