To many people Solange Knowles might be known simply as Beyonce’s sister. To do so pigeon holes her in a corner that is unfair and inaccurate. Solange has a career all her own, experiences different from those of her sister, and a life that defines itself apart from that of her family.

Living in the shadow of a massively popular, world renowned superstar can be difficult at times, but if you asked Solange Knowles you might find that there is still room to carve out an individual career that stands on its own merits. Knowles is the younger sister of international music star Beyonce, and has created a life, career, and style all her own, as a singer, songwriter, actress and fashion model.

From a Talented Creole Family, Another Gifted Musician

America’s creole region encompasses a rather small swatch of land in the south of the U.S. mainland along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The region stretching from Houston, Texas through the bayous of Louisiana over to the capital of creoles in America, New Orleans, is generally accepted as the home of creole in America.

Solange is the second child of Mathew and Tina Knowles and was born in the same Houston, Texas home as her older sister Beyoncé. While the careers of the two women followed similar arcs, and coincided with one another at times, Solange has shown over the years that her talents are unique to her and not mere copies of her sister.

It was there in Houston, where Solange and her family emerged as some of the most well-known members of the creole culture in the country, and around the world. That heritage did not start with Beyoncé and Solange, or their parents for that matter, but rather began centuries earlier when their descendants brought the creole culture of Louisiana into the region.

Solange, through her mother Tina Knowles (previously Tina Beyince), is a descendant of Joseph Broussard. Solange’s maternal grandparents, Lumis Beyonce and Agnez Dereon, came from the bayous of Louisiana where the family had lived for years as descendants of Broussard.

During the mid-1700s the British were forcing the expulsion of French Acadians from their lands in Canada. Broussard was a key leader in the Acadian’s fight against British expulsion, but by 1755 it was clear the Acadians would not succeed. It was at this time he led the Acadian people out of Canada, eventually settling in the swamps and bayous of southern Louisiana. The creole/Cajun culture his people brought with them lives on to this day in the Knowles family.

Solange Knowles

Solange Knowles at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards, Staples Center, Los Angeles
Photo: S Bukley

A Start in the Family Business

Although Solange is a gifted musician in her own right, everyone has to start somewhere. She got her opportunity working alongside her older sister. As Beyoncé’s career was taking off with Destiny’s Child, Solange was there cutting her teeth in the music industry in her sister’s shadow. As Beyoncé’s group toured the country, Solange was there performing as a backup dancer, singing in supporting roles, and even stepping in to perform on stage at times.

Much of Solange’s early work came as a backup singer on works with larger groups and individuals including Lil Romeo (Game Time), Lil Bowwow (Puppy Love), and of course Destiny’s Child. But behind the quiet exterior was a young woman waiting to step out of her sister’s shadow and make a name for herself as an individual artist.

Emerging as a Unique Talent

At an early age Solange signed with her father’s record label, Music World Entertainment. Solange’s first solo album was released in 2001 when she was just 16. Entitled Solo Star, the album was met with moderate commercial and critical success.

By 2004 at the young age of 18 she married Daniel Smith. The couple moved to Idaho where they raised their son Julez and Solange kept her career chugging along. During her time in Idaho Solange spent anytime not parenting performing minor acting roles (Bring it On: All or Nothing) and continuing to write songs for her sister Beyoncé as well as former Destiny’s Child group members Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams.

Following her 2007 divorce from Smith, and subsequent move to Los Angeles, California, Solange began to fully explore her solo career. The move allowed Solange more time to write and record music, and it wasn’t long until her second album, Sol-Angle and the Hadley St. Dreams, was released in 2008. Her second album was met with greater success and acclaim, reaching the number nine spot on the Billboard 200.

Solange’s third album was entitled True and was released in 2012, with plans for a fourth album. Her earlier music was similar to her sisters with an R&B feel, but her later solo albums expressed more of her unique style and musical preferences. Her second album, more than her others, showed a deep connection to Motown sounds from the 1960s and 1970s.

Solange also had an eye for fashion, and a beautiful figure that made her the perfect fit for a role in the fashion industry. Along with her sister, Solange models for the family fashion line House of Dereon. She is also the face of an offshoot fashion line entitled simply Dereon which highlights junior apparel from the company.

Her personal style has landed her modelling and advertising roles beyond the House of Dereon line. Solange has served as the face of Giorgio Armani’s Armani Jeans line and also represents Rimmel London. Solange’s personal fashion choices often reflect her cultural background with heavy mixed prints and retro style.

Defending Cultural Differences

As an individual from a creole background, Solange is capable of viewing the world through many different cultural lenses. In May 2016, Solange shared a video on Instagram of her son Julez reciting a speech in French during his fifth-grade graduation. When a commentator bemoaned the fact that her son was speaking French and not an African language, Solange gracefully defended against the assertion that she was teaching her child to be a good Euro man.

In her response to the criticism of this one journalist, Solange took the high road with a response that highlighted the differences emerging between those of African descent when it comes to language and identity. She responded by saying that her choice to have her son embark on a French Immersion journey was.

“Actually made with the hopes of him being able to travel to many countries in Africa and connect, experience, and learn. He has since been able to use that line of communication in Senegal, Rwanda, and Morocco, and make incredible friends, experiences, and moments in his life that I believe will be lasting and defining ones.”

Solange Knowles

Solange Knowles performs at Heineken Primavera Sound Festival, Barcelona, Spain.
Photo: Christian Bertrand

Returning to her Roots

For such a young woman, Solange has seen and done it all seemingly. By the age of 27, she had toured the world as a musician, served as a model and fashion expert, and taken on the admirable role of single mother to her son Julez. The creole culture prides itself on a quiet, simple approach to life where helping family and others in the community comes first.

Solange announced a big change in her life in 2013, trading in the hustle and bustle of Brooklyn, and moving with her son Julez to the Big Easy in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to close friends, as quoted in the New York Post, Solange is looking forward to the, “Simplicity, warmth, and space she can get in the Big Easy.”

Shortly after settling in to life in New Orleans, Solange launched her own record label, named Saint Records. In the formation of her record label, she announced that all her future album releases would come under the label and be distributed by recording powerhouse Sony. Within a year of relocating and opening the record label company, Solange found new love in fellow New Orleans resident, Alan Ferguson, a well-known video music director. The pair married on November 16, 2014 in New Orleans in a ceremony that reportedly, “Broke the internet,” due to its popularity.

Solange has shown the type of commitment to family and perseverance that any person finds admirable. That she achieves it all while under the constant watch of the public eye makes it all the more amazing to see how it occurred with grace and humility.