We all have our favorite musical artists. Even though I contribute to this blog weekly, there are still artists I favor more than others. It’s just human nature. However, when you sit down and really give it thought, there are interesting reasons why one may be drawn to one musician over another. It goes beyond the music the artist creates, as today we are exposed to an abundance of information about an artist. We also have an ability to find out even more because of technological advances and social media. This week I decided to finally feature singer/songwriter/model/actress (and more) Solange Knowles. Of course, I am a big fan of her sister Beyoncé, but I also appreciate the music of Solange. Even though they are sisters, Solange has her own identity. Moreover, she embraces her unique abilities and talents.
Much has been documented about Solange’s childhood and upbringing. Everything about her superstar sister’s life from birth has been dissected and written many times, therefore much is known about Solange from her early childhood. Looking from her life at that time you might not see much difference from Beyoncé. You most likely see a talented child that can sing and dance. However, at the career level Solange started to forge her own identity. That’s where we should start her story.
At 13, she decided to pursue recording, but her parents initially advised her to wait. At the age of 15 Knowles replaced a departed dancer and performed with her sister’s group Destiny’s Child on tour. During the group’s opening stint for American pop singer Christina Aguilera’s tour, Knowles temporarily replaced Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland after she broke her toes backstage during a costume change. When Knowles was 16, her father, who was then also her manager, signed her to his recording company, Music World Entertainment, along with Columbia Records.
In the beginning, father and manager Matthew Knowles kept Solange somewhat close to Beyoncé and her group Destiny’s Child. Her first time into the music business was in 2001 as the lead singer, backed with Destiny’s Child, on the title theme song for the animated television series The Proud Family. She also was a featured performer on “Hey Goldmember” for the soundtrack to the 2002 film Austin Powers in Goldmember, as well as a backup singer on the track “Little Drummer Boy” on her sister’s group’s 2001 holiday album 8 Days of Christmas. Solange also appeared on Kelly Rowland’s début solo album Simply Deep, for which she also wrote the title track, “Beyond Imagination” and “Obsession”.
n 2002, she lent her voice for the character Chanel, the cousin of the protagonist Penny Proud, in the episode “Behind Family Lines” to the animated television series The Proud Family. In June 2003, Mathew Knowles excitedly announced that he was considering adding Solange to Destiny’s Child when the group reunited in 2004, thus turning them into a quartet for the first time since short-lived member Farrah Franklin left in 2000. Mathew Knowles said he was testing the reactions, and, judging by what he had heard, “it seems like a good idea”. Later in August, however, Beyoncé said it was only a rumor and Destiny’s Child would remain a trio.
That decision possibly was the most important one in Solange blazing a much different path from sister Beyoncé. At the age of 14, Solange Knowles started working on her début album Solo Star, which involved American producers such as Jermaine Dupri, The Neptunes, Linda Perry and Timbaland among others. The album is primarily uptempo R&B, although Knowles said there are pop, rock, reggae and hip hop influences. Knowles co-wrote and co-produced some of the 15 tracks in the album, including its lead single, “Feelin’ You (Part II)”. The song failed to enter the Billboard Hot 100, but reached number three on both the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Sales and Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales chart. Solo Star was released on January 21, 2003 in the United States, where it debuted at number 49 on the Billboard 200 and reached number 23 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Solo Star had a mixed critical reception: William Ruhlmann of AllMusic called it a “state-of-the-art contemporary R&B album”, but deemed Knowles “lost somewhere in the mix”. By mid-2008, the album had sold 112,000 copies domestically according to Nielsen SoundScan.
After the release of her début album, Knowles started acting in films followed by a career break. Knowles married Daniel Smith in February 2004 and her family moved to Idaho. While staying there, she resumed writing songs including the singles “Get Me Bodied” and “Upgrade U” from her sister’s second solo album, B’Day. Knowles earned the R&B and Hip-Hop Song accolade for “Get Me Bodied” at the 2008 ASCAP Awards. She had also written songs for Destiny’s Child, and members Rowland and Michelle Williams. In 2004, while pregnant with son Daniel, she made a cameo appearance in Destiny’s Child’s music video for “Soldier”.
After the divorce, Knowles returned to Houston to begin working on her second album. Knowles renewed her management, signing a record deal with Geffen and a publishing deal with EMI. Knowles finished working on her second studio album in 2008 and titled the project Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams. It includes production by CeeLo Green, Soulshock & Karlin and Mark Ronson as well as an appearance by Bilal. A collection of 1960s and 1970s influenced songs, it is seen as a departure from her pop-oriented début, with what Billboard magazine called “more of a modern twist on hip-hop and R&B flecked with tinges of blues and jazz”.
Solange appeared to be on the right track musically after her second solo album. Much different from her first album, and different from her sister and Destiny’s Child.
In July 2015, Knowles announced that her third studio album was nearly complete. On her thirtieth birthday, June 24, 2016, she stated that she had completed A Seat at the Table three days before her birthday, on June 21. The album was released on September 30, 2016, to widespread critical acclaim. It became her first number-one album in the United States. This made her and Beyoncé the first sisters to have both had US number-one albums in a calendar year. On October 3, 2016, Knowles released two music videos from A Seat at the Table: “Don’t Touch my Hair” and “Cranes in the Sky”. The album’s lead single, “Cranes in the Sky” won the Grammy for Best R&B Performance, becoming Solange’s first Grammy nomination and win.
In late 2017, reports emerged that Solange Knowles was diagnosed with an unknown autonomic nerve disorder, referred to as dysautonomia. The disease escalated to a point that caused her to cancel her scheduled New Year’s Eve performance at AfroPunk Festival in Johannesburg — the singer later detailed in a statement how “saddened” she was to have to cancel the performance. While there is no cure now, groups such as Dysautonomia International are working to help victims of this disease get one step closer to finding one. And the beacon of light for those suffering comes from musical icon Solange Knowles, who is finally shedding light on an overlooked disease.
Her three solo albums, and many other musical projects place Solange solely as her own musician and entertainer. She has easily strengthened her own identity. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Knowles commented: “People think there should be this great rivalry between us, but there’s never been any competition. There’s a big age gap and we are two very different characters.” Beyoncé was unwilling to bring her sister into the recording industry, reasoning that it “involves a lot of pressure”. Knowles countered by saying, “It’s good to have her advice, but we really have different goals”.