Mum is Knowles sisters' biggest influence

Tina Knowles Lawson (above), mother of singers Beyonce and Solange Knowles.
Tina Knowles Lawson (above), mother of singers Beyonce and Solange Knowles.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • For sisters in the public eye, Beyonce and Solange Knowles have managed to resist the siren call to overshare the minutiae of their personal lives. But there is one topic they are happy to gush about: their mother, Tina Knowles Lawson.

In this month's issue of Interview magazine, Solange is interviewed by Beyonce and waxes lyrical about how their mother "always taught us to be in control of our voice, bodies and work".

Last June, when accepting the fashion icon award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Beyonce dedicated it to her "fabulous and beautiful" mother.

Lawson, 63, now finds herself in a newfound role as an artistic bridge between two of last year's most critically lauded albums: Lemonade, Beyonce's fiery visual album that is up for nine nods at the Grammy Awards next month; and A Seat At The Table, Solange's spare and poetic R&B record, which topped Pitchfork's best-album list last year.

The shadow of Lawson, a former Southern beautician, hovers over the artsy allusions in Lemonade to inter-generational African-American motherhood, marital strife and their family's deep Creole roots.

The journalist-averse Beyonce broke her silence to talk about her mother's creative influence on e-mail. "I think it was important to my mother to surround us with positive, powerful, strong images of African and African-American art so that we could reflect and see ourselves in them," she said.

"My mother has always been invested in making women feel beautiful," she added, "whether it was through someone sitting in her hair chair or making a prom dress for one of the girls at church. And her art collection always told the stories of women wanting to do the same."

Lawson's appearance on A Seat At The Table is more explicit. In Tina Taught Me, a cerebral 74- second spoken-word interlude, she sermonises about black cultural pride, saying: "I've always been proud to be black. Never wanted to be nothing else."

Solange said: "She says things in that interlude that I had been trying to say for the last four years.

"If my sister and my project feel like an 'awakening' to some," she added, "I am constantly saying that we both grew up in a home with two words: Tina Knowles."

Lawson, who had a hair salon with her then-husband Matthew Knowles in Houston, picked up dressmaking at a young age.

When Destiny's Child, the girl group consisting of Beyonce, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, began to break out in the late 1990s, she whipped up matching cutaway Boy Scout uniforms, barely there camouflage hot pants and Tarzan- like fur sheaths for the group to wear onstage.

When the group disbanded in 2005, she created showstoppers for Beyonce as a solo artist, including the black brocade ball gown she wore for the 2005 Academy Awards.

In 2009, just when her professional life seemed to be at its peak, Lawson said her "world completely stopped". After 33 years of marriage, she filed for divorce from Knowles, who had been a talent manager for their daughters.

In search of answers, she closed her fashion businesses and, at 59, left Houston for Los Angeles for what she jokingly said was "a new house, a new car, a new man and a new life". She now focuses her time on black female empowerment issues and philanthropy and is writing an autobiography she says is a "how-to-get-your-life-back book".

After her self-imposed break from fashion, she designed the gold- fringe outfit Solange wore in her music video Cranes In The Sky, as well as the white dress Solange wore for her performance at former president Barack Obama's farewell party at the White House on Jan 6.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'Mum is Knowles sisters' biggest influence'. Print Edition | Subscribe