With Beyoncé to take centre stage at Coachella this weekend, iSing profiles the vocal powerhouse.
It’s 20 years since Beyoncé shot to fame with girl group Destiny’s Child and in that time Queen Bey has, thanks to a combination of hard graft, talent and savvy business acumen, elevated herself from pop star to super star.
The American singer-songwriter has sold 118 million albums in her own right (plus another 60 million with Destiny’s Child) and become a global brand. She’s starred in films, launched a fashion label, campaigned for civil rights and feminism and had three children and a rocky marriage with rapper Jay Z.
So how did a girl from humble Texan origins become a cultural icon? Talent, tenacity and the ability to incorporate different genres and influences into her music and still create her own, cohesive sound, all played a part. Beyoncé doesn’t stick to one genre or one type of sound and has collaborated with the likes of Sean Paul, Jamie Foxx, Missy Elliott, Shakira and Chris Martin.
Vocally, she has an extraordinary range (approx 4 octaves), with superb vocal control and the ability to tackle long and complex runs. Earlier in her career she could over do the “vocal athletics” but these days she can be lauded for her extraordinary and well placed melismatic vocal lines that move smoothly through all her registers. She seems also to have worked hard on her vocal tone, which had a tendency to be rather nasal early in her career.
Commitment to intensive training means she’s a knockout live performer who can sing and dance at the same time without losing vocal quality. Look no further than her stellar Super Bowl performances in 2013 and 2016 for proof of this.
So where did it all start? The 36-year-old spent her childhood singing and dancing, but it was as the lead singer of R&B girl group Destiny’s Child in the 1990s that she rose to prominence. The group (managed by Beyoncé’s dad Matthew, who made sure his daughter was always centre stage) was one of the most successful girl groups of all time, nominated for 14 Grammys and winning three.
The band split in 2006 but Beyoncé’s career barely skipped a beat. She starred in the film Dreamgirls where she delivered one of her most memorable vocals with her rendition of Listen, a singing masterpiece, showing off her range, vocal control and how beautiful her natural voice is.
Other notable achievements in this phase of her career include her first album, Dangerously in Love, which won five Grammy Awards, and her portrayal of Etta James in the film, Cadillac Records. Her vocal prowess on a song from that film, At Last, earned her an invitation to perform for then President Barack Obama and the First Lady, Michelle.
If ever there was any doubt about Beyoncé’s status as international superstar, Mrs Carter’s fifth studio album, released in 2013 a year after she gave birth to daughter Blue Ivy, proved she was a force to be reckoned with. The self-titled album Beyoncé, sold a staggering 800,000 copies in the first weekend of its release and went on to sell more than five million. The album explored the themes of love and monogamy and included Drunk in Love, a sexy, explicit paean to unbridled lust that featured hubby Jay Z. Things were all good, or so it seemed, between the music world’s ultimate power couple.
That was until a year later when Beyoncé’s sister, the equally feisty Solange, lashed out at her brother-in-law in a lift. Cue frenzied media speculation about Jay Z’s infidelity. Bey stayed tight-lipped – until she released Lemonade two years later and let rip.
The album contains some excoriating lyrics. One single on the album, Sorry, opens with: “What are you going to say at my funeral now you’ve killed me?” She follows up with: “Looking at my watch, he shoulda been home, Today I regret the night I put that ring on.”
Since then the air seems to have cleared between the couple. They welcomed twins Sir and Rumi into the world last year and Beyoncé will perform in a select number of concert dates alongside hubby Jay Z this summer.
In the meantime, she will play Coachella this weekend (April 14). To prepare for the premium gig she’s been rehearsing 11 hours a day with her dancers, a telling sign that even though she’s one of the biggest names in the industry she has no intention of resting on her laurels or coasting on her reputation.