Now that I’m older, I get a chance to see artists grow from the start of their careers, and follow them through the highs and lows of those careers.
With Beyoncé Knowles, it’s been almost all highs.
Last week at Ford Field in downtown Detroit, I got to see her make history. Beyoncé became the only solo African American artist to sell out a US stadium tour. She performed to 42,000 people in an indoor stadium in Detroit, the largest crowd I have ever seen an African American solo artist draw. Prince never toured stadiums, and Michael Jackson only toured stadiums in Europe, not the States.
It’s an incredible achievement for any performer, but to see an African American woman play to so many people was emotional. The crowd was probably 70 percent African American women. They paid up to $250 dollars for tickets, and packed the bars and restaurants in downtown Detroit before and after the show.
It’s a feat that any performer would want to pull off, but for a female, and an African American female at that, it’s even more extraordinary. In an industry and world where women are warned that it’s not if they will be sexually harassed, but when they will be sexually harassed, it’s a measurable triumph for the female spirit.
I first saw her perform with Destiny’s Child when they were still considered an R & B act, before they “crossed over.” It was a radio show (several pop and R&B acts) back around the turn of the century, at a suburban arena, that didn’t sell out. They headlined the bill, and there was enough stage attitude to become a headliner, but honestly I doubt if anyone in the arena that day could see that the lead singer in the group would go on to become one of the biggest solo acts of all time.
The next time I saw Beyoncé was at her first official solo show at an anniversary for one of the big three in a suburb of Detroit. The reason why this is a first-person story is because I can’t give an unbiased review of Beyoncé due to the fact that she once approved me to work for her as her photographer for her record company during her first solo outing, which included Destiny’s Child, and her sister, Solange. I was a stand-in for another photographer friend, who passed the job to me. It was my understanding that after finding out that I worked with Prince that she said, “Well, if he can work for Prince, he can work with me.”
With the gig, I got a chance to knock off a professional bucket list item. To work a show in a documentary style, backstage, and in front of the stage, from beginning to end. I was amazed to see that she was running the show herself, and she was only 21 at the time. When her at-the-time boyfriend (and future husband) Jay Z joined her onstage in front of 65,000 people, it would be one of the first times they performed together in public.
From her solo start in a Detroit suburb where she performed in front of 65, 000 people, to last Tuesday at Ford Field in front of 42, 000 paying fans (her first solo show was free of charge), she came full Detroit circle. Just about 50 feet in front of me stood a huge cube, reminiscent of the Borg cube from the science fiction TV series, “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The Borg’s mission was to assimilate all life forms they encountered into their collective unit. It was hard not to look at that cube (which absorbed images of Beyoncé and her family and acted as a stage for dancers and opened up to reveal circus type performers dangling from on high) and not think that the audience was not being assimilated into the Beyoncé collective.
As soon as I saw the cube, which must have been nearly seven stories tall, that was my first thought; “We are being assimilated. The entire Southeastern Michigan area is being assimilated.”
The show was an event, a spectacle. I have seen thousands of bands live, including most of the major acts that can sell out a stadium, and I have never seen anything like the Ford Field show. U2 needs to check the show out. The cube beats the Pop Mart arch in spades.
During the show, Beyoncé mentioned the trip she took with her family earlier in the day to the Motown museum and remarked that the people in Detroit have been privileged to have been witness to so much great talent.
Indeed they are.