Her first name alone evokes an image. A rhythm. A movement.
For some, it also evokes a painstakingly crafted veneer that has rarely been peeled away. Until recently, fans have had to rely on tabloid tales if they wanted a peak behind the diva’s carefully crafted, controlled curtain.
New York Times bestselling author J. Randy Taraborrelli’s new “Becoming Beyoncé: The Untold Story” furiously rips the curtain off of the rod and flings it to the floor. It’s a comprehensive account of just how a little girl from Texas became BEYONCÉ — and the cast of strong, powerful women who helped her along the way (and whose stories had never been told).
With Taraborrelli’s past subjects, like Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, he had lots of prior source material from which he could begin his work. (Who hasn’t read some version of Diana Ross’ “rags to riches” story, for example?). But when Taraborrelli turned his attention to Queen Bey, he told me he had to start from scratch.
“I remember sitting at my computer when I started writing this book,” Taraborrelli reminisced, “and pulling my hair out because there are no other books about Beyoncé that I could go to as reference, that I could use as a framework.”
“She’s so high profile on social media,” he continued. “She’s always in the headlines. She’s a major star that appears to be constantly in our faces. But if you unpack what we knew about her before this book, it was practically nothing. How rare is that these days, that a celebrity can maintain that level of privacy and keep herself in the public eye at the same time? It’s my job, as a biographer, to invade that privacy.”
In Becoming Beyoncé, Taraborrelli deftly dissects the life of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter and reassembles it bit by sequined bit. As he does so, he creates a platform for exploring the lives of the large cast of characters who have in one way or another helped to create the legend who’s sold over 160 million records.
Many of the book’s characters are strong-minded, powerful women and one of them, Andretta Tillman, was Beyoncé’s first manager. Tillman’s story, until now, has been largely brushed aside.
“Andretta’s story is the heart and soul of so much of this book,” Taraborrelli said. “This woman believed so much, not just in Beyoncé but in all of the girls that she mentored. She was a person who had faced such tragedy in her life but would not be beaten down by it.”
“You see the power, focus and discipline that it took for Andretta to get through the day on Beyoncé’s work ethic today,” Taraborrelli continued. “It’s a story that people need to know, that it took that woman and her effort, love, affection and attention to turn this woman into ‘Beyoncé’.”
As a major female influence in Beyoncé’s life, Tillman rivals Beyoncé’s mom Tina, whose story is also included in Becoming Beyoncé. Taraborelli shares more than a few surprising twists and turns regarding her marriage to the diva’s father, Mathew Knowles.
Prepare to learn about other people you’ve never heard of, like Debra Laday and Denise Seals, who devoted years of time, talent, and treasure to nurture and groom a pre-adolescent Beyoncé. Also, you’ll learn about all of the young girls who sang with Beyoncé years before she exploded onto the world stage with Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams as members of Destiny’s Child.
While Becoming Beyoncé does a superb job of profiling the ladies behind the legend, Taraborrelli by no means gives the men behind her short shrift. For example, I walked away with a whole new level of respect for Mathew Knowles.
“I’ve written about a lot of great men over the years,” Taraborrelli opined, “Berry Gordy, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra…and one thing I’ve learned is that great men have great flaws, but that doesn’t make them any less great. When you’re as engaging as Mathew is and your heart is in the right place, even when you do the wrong things, people are still in your corner.”
“I know there are people who think he saw a cash cow in his daughter, but how reductive is that?” the author continued. “I hope that readers give Mathew his props. I offered Mathew carte blanche with this book…that I would run all things ‘Mathew” by him before I published them, and I did that because I wanted him to be his own advocate. Mathew decided against working with us…but I felt it was my responsibility to be his advocate in this book. I wanted people to understand that [he] would have done anything for his daughter…Mathew was not out to make friends; he was out to make his daughter a star, because that’s what SHE wanted.”
Taraborrelli’s new book also breaks Jay Z down for readers, differentiating between the man and the persona. Taraborrelli quotes a friend of Jay Z’s, rapper Jaz-O as saying “When [Jay Z] got with Beyoncé, he was thinking about his brand as much as his heart. He can smell opportunity, and like he always does, he rose to the occasion.”
In light of tabloid rumors on infidelity on Jay Z’s part, I asked Taraborrelli whether he thought Beyoncé’s hubby was still thinking more about his brand — or with another part of his anatomy than with his heart.
“I think that it might have been true when they first met,” Taraborrelli reflected, “but I think that changed. The picture that emerges of Jay Z in this book is counter to what anybody ever thought about him. I think the hip hop swagger that comes with being a star in that genre is all there with Jay Z, but his greatest concern became Beyoncé.”
“You really see the evolution of their relationship in this book,” Taraborrelli continued. “You begin to understand that this is not a relationship that’s going to end quickly or easily. Counter to all of the tabloid speculation about it, the relationship is too hard earned for them to just be dismissive about it. I think it’s easy for the public to jump to a cartoon conclusion that Jay is cheating on Beyoncé and that they’re breaking up when you don’t understand the people you’re talking about or what they’ve been through to be together, and what brought them together, and why they’re still together. Beyoncé got a really good guy, the guy she deserves.”
Another guy that Beyoncé “got” is Lyndall Locke. She dated him off and on for about 10 years, long before she met Jay Z, and Locke talks for the first time about meeting and dating a very young Beyoncé in the new book.
“I have such a warm spot in my heart for Lyndall Locke,” Taraborrelli shared. “We did a bunch of interviews with Lyndall by phone. After that, on his own dime, Lyndall flew to Los Angeles to meet me because he wanted to say to me face-to-face ‘This is my life. Please don’t fuck it up.’ He wanted to say it to me in person so I could look him in the eye and know that that sentiment was true. He is such a great guy in so many ways, and so honest. What I loved about his story was that the reader gets to see Beyoncé’s perplexing fame explode, through the eyes of this simple country boy.”
“Everyone who has read the book so far has told me the same thing: everybody loves Lyndall,” Taraborrelli added. “He trusted me so much with stories that he’d never told before, and he said he’ll never tell them again. He wanted his history documented for his son. When he told me that, I knew I had a responsibility to get it right. I’ve talked to him since the book came out, and he loves it.”
It’s all well and good that Locke loves the book, but I couldn’t let Taraborrelli go without asking him what he thought Mrs. Carter herself will think of Becoming Beyoncé: The Untold Story.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about that,” the author said, “not only of her, but of all of my sources. My job [is] to put all of the pieces together so that they make sense. I hope when [Beyoncé] reads the book, she can get past whether or not Rihanna and Jay Z had an affair and get to the part that really matters…the chief architects of her career telling their personal stories for the first time. I hope it tugs at her heartstrings as it does mine.”
Becoming Beyoncé: The Untold Story is available online and at retail everywhere.