It’s a Family Affair

In the past year Beyoncé has gone from being a well-known recording artist to quite possibly the biggest star on the planet. Which is exactly how her mother and father planned it.

“Good morning,” said the receptionist, “Music World/Sanctuary.” There was a pause. “No, ma’am, I don’t.” Pause. “I don’t even know where that party is. Um-hmm. Good-bye.” She gave me an exasperated look, and the phone rang again.

It was the Thursday before the Super Bowl, and here at the Houston headquarters of pop star Beyoncé, the phones were ringing nonstop. The entire city was giddy with parties and rumors of parties, and Beyoncé, the hometown girl who was set to sing the National Anthem before the game, was rumored to be hosting the hottest party of all. Everybody in town was looking for a way in.

I was waiting to talk to Beyoncé’s father and manager, Mathew Knowles, and her mother, Tina, who is her stylist and clothing designer. Together with their daughters, Beyoncé and Solange, also a recording artist, the Knowleses have become the most successful American music family since the Jacksons. Their offices, in a three-story nineteenth-century house decorated with modern and African art, were humming; doors opening and swinging shut, employees having hurried conversations in the hallway. At one point, the receptionist got on the intercom and said firmly, “All MWEs to the conference room.” Music World employees crowded the halls, heading past the life-size cardboard cutout of Beyoncé holding a Pepsi and the dozens of framed gold and platinum albums. When all was clear, a woman walked in the front door and the receptionist said to her, “Staff meeting. Right now.” The woman hurried off. Mathew had called an emergency meeting, the receptionist explained to me.

The sense of anticipation in those charged days before the Super Bowl was palpable: Things were about to get crazy around here. Indeed, Beyoncé, who was already a multiplatinum recording artist, was about to cross the threshold to downright superstardom. It wouldn’t take much, over the next two and a half weeks, to push her. First would come her excellent rendition, in front of 89 million people, of the National Anthem, which was passionate yet respectful and also, in the wake of the halftime spectacle, the only non-idiotic performance all day. A week later she would win an astounding five Grammys. One week after that she would give a wild halftime performance of her hit “Crazy in Love” at the NBA All-Star Game. All of a sudden Beyoncé, 22, would be everywhere, in the way that Britney, Madonna, and Michael are everywhere—except that Beyoncé is talented, young, and not an accused sex criminal.

It doesn’t hurt that she is beautiful, with large eyes and a stunning smile, or that she is, as she memorably says in the words of one of her songs, “bootylicious.” Part of her wide appeal is that she is both wholesome and sexy at the same time. She’s also mysteriously pan-racial—she’s black, but with her blond locks and golden skin, she could be just about any color. Beyoncé is an adman’s dream, and she is currently the public face of Pepsi (replacing Britney), L’Oreal, and Tommy Hilfiger. As I waited at the Music World offices, I picked up two little boxes that sat on a chair next to me. Each held a blond Beyoncé doll made by Hasbro.

Beyoncé’s journey from shy Houston girl to larger-than-life superstar commodity is matched only by 52-year-old Mathew’s transformation from corporate salesman to powerful music industry mogul. He has built himself an empire on this city block in downtown Houston, where he does almost everything in-house. He manages not only Beyoncé, Solange, and Destiny’s Child, the world’s biggest girl group, but also the group’s other two members—Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland—as solo acts, as well as three other artists. In 2002 Mathew’s label, Music World Music/Columbia, released a number one gospel album by Williams, and he recently signed soul legends the O’Jays. In the main building, Mathew manages, markets, and promotes his artists; out back sits a state-of-the-art studio, where he records them and teaches them, as he did Beyoncé, how to be stars. There’s also a big equipment- and merchandise-filled warehouse, one side of which is covered by a giant image of Beyoncé, Michelle, and Kelly, looking like superheroes, looming over the city’s skyline. (Last October Mathew’s management operation was bought by the London-based company Sanctuary for $10 million, though Mathew will continue to oversee his acts.)

After Mathew sat down to talk in his second-floor office, it was only a few minutes before his secretary came in and told him he had an important call, and he asked me to wait outside—the first of three times he would do so. As I waited, I looked at the walls lined with even more gold and platinum albums and dozens of articles about Destiny’s Child. Just outside his door there was a 1987 letter from Xerox congratulating him on being the Salesman of the Year three out of the previous four years. After a couple of minutes he stuck his head out, invited me back in, and asked his secretary, “Can you get Beyoncé on the phone? Tell her it’s urgent.”

When his daughter called back, I sat and listened while Mathew stood, leaning against his desk, talking to his daughter, and looking out the window. The five-minute conversation concerned a potential problem with Beyoncé’s upcoming tour. Mathew spoke confidently and deliberately, laying out his case for the action he wanted to take, and then said, “That’s my thought, but ultimately it’s your final decision.” After a long pause, he ended with, “So, I have your approval?” Then he said good-bye.

“She’s my daughter, client, partner,” Mathew said of the woman whom he has helped to sell more than 40 million albums. Indeed, recently they became partners in property; the two own this block and are looking at others to buy. Theirs is a symbiotic relationship that has come a long way since she was a little girl. The father wouldn’t be where he is today without the daughter and vice versa.

It wasn’t immediately apparent to Mathew and Tina

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