Black Sounds Beautiful: How Rihanna Parlayed Her Superstar Status Into A Visionary Push For Inclusivity

Photo: Dan MacMedan/WireImage


Black Sounds Beautiful: How Rihanna Parlayed Her Superstar Status Into A Visionary Push For Inclusivity

Explore the powerful social impact that Rihanna has exerted through her music, business, philanthropy and more in this episode of Black Sounds Beautiful.

GRAMMYs/Jun 8, 2022 - 07:30 pm

Rihanna has compiled a stout catalog of mega-hits and an impressive nine GRAMMY trophies since her career began in the early 2000s, but her knack for writing a hit song is only one component of her success.

Her empowering lyrics and confidence-heavy vocal delivery has helped create tough-as-nails feminist anthems like "Diamonds" and "Hard," while tracks like "Love the Way You Lie" — a collaboration with rapper Eminem — offer a mainstream audience an intimate look into the often-stigmatized problem of domestic violence. But that's just the beginning of how Rihanna has used her superstar status to uplift Black voices and marginalized communities.

In 2019, Rihanna launched her own fashion house and cosmetics brand called Fenty and Fenty Beauty, respectively, both titled after her surname. In both endeavors, she immediately championed diversity: The brand includes a size and gender-inclusive lingerie line, Savage X Fenty; her makeup line launched with 40 shades, many of which were intended for darker skin tones in colors that were previously difficult to find.

"Growing up, I wanted to be darker, always," the singer told T: The New York Times Style Magazine in 2019. "So making makeup, it wasn't even a thing I had to think about. I didn't really even know how bad it was, the void in the market for dark foundation, because all I'd seen was Black women put makeup on."

The superstar is also a staunch supporter of social causes such as the Black Lives Matter Movement and anti-police brutality advocacy. In 2016, she joined Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and a slew of other stars in a powerful PSA called "23 Ways You Could Be Killed If You Are Black In America," putting a spotlight on systemic racism and violence against Black people across the country. 

Along with her entrepreneurial ventures, Rihanna founded the Clara Lionel Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on funding education and emergency preparedness and response. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation donated $5 million toward relief efforts. 

And even as fans long for a new Rihanna album — she hasn't released one since 2016's ANTI — the singer has already done plenty to be considered one of her generation's biggest hitmakers. To date, she has 14 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, and Rihanna has won nine GRAMMYs and has 33 nominations overall.

Watch the video above to get to know more about Rihanna's powerful impact on music, popular culture and the world. Keep checking for more episodes of Black Sounds Beautiful.

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8 Artists Who Were Inspired By Their Teachers: Rihanna, Adele, Jay-Z & More
John Legend sings for students at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in 2012.

Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images


8 Artists Who Were Inspired By Their Teachers: Rihanna, Adele, Jay-Z & More

In honor of Music In Our Schools Month this March, take a look at how teachers made a heartwarming impact on superstars like Katy Perry and John Legend.

GRAMMYs/Mar 16, 2023 - 03:55 pm

Before Rihanna, Billy Joel and Jay-Z became some of the biggest names in music, they were students just like the rest of us. Without some particularly special teachers, they might not be the superstars they are today, and they all remember who first encouraged them.

Within the past few years, Rihanna made a special trip to a cricket match in England to reunite with her old P.E. teacher from Barbados, who she calls her "MVP"; Joel traveled back to his New York hometown to honor the teacher who said he should be a professional musician; and Jay-Z told David Letterman that his sixth grade English teacher made him fall in love with words. 

In honor of Music In Our Schools Month — which raises awareness for supporting and cultivating worthwhile music programs in K-12 — highlights eight artists who have praised their teachers for making a lifelong impact.

Billy Joel

After watching Joel tackle Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23, his high school music appreciation teacher Chuck Arnold suggested that he consider music as a career.

"He said to me, you should be a professional musician," Joel recalled of his Hicksville High School mentor during a 1996 event at C.W. Post College. "Now, for a teacher to say that, it's like condemning someone to a life of poverty, drug taking, alcoholism and failure.

"A teacher is telling me this," he added seriously. "It had a huge influence on me."

In 2022, Joel was on hand to congratulate Arnold during the dedication of the Charles "Chuck" Arnold Theatre at the school. "This is for the coolest teacher there ever was," he praised.


In 2019, CBS Sunday arranged a surprise visit with the singer and Manny Gonzales, the former band director at her alma mater, Elsik High School in Houston. She told the network that Gonzales helped her get a scholarship to study classical flute at University of Houston.

"You told my ass!" Lizzo exclaimed as she squeezed him. "You were like, 'Get it together, girl, 'cause you are special. Apply yourself!' Those moments meant so much to me."

Lil Jon

The Atlanta DJ/producer and king of crunk has done more than take parties to the next level — he has invested in the educational future of children in Africa by building two schools in Ghana with the non-profit organization Pencils of Promise. He credits a mentor at Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta for sparking his brain when he was a teenager.

"It was my music teacher [who inspired me to dream bigger]," he said in a 2019 interview with Yahoo! "I wanted to play drums, and if I didn't play drums, I wouldn't make music, and drums are the foundation for what I do."


Roddy Estwick was Rihanna's P.E. teacher in Barbados and is now the assistant coach of the West Indies cricket team. The two had an emotional reunion at the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England.

"He made a lasting impact on my life and he really offered great advice to me and many others when we were at school at Combermere," she told Barbados Today amid their reunion. "I just wanted to let everyone know what he meant to me in my development and what he did for us back at school in Barbados." Essence reported that Rihanna described him as, "My mentor, my champ, my MVP" on her Instagram stories.

John Legend

The Ohio native credits his English teacher Mrs. Bodey at North High School in Springfield for setting him on the path that culminated in his music career.

"Until her class, I hadn't believed in my ability as a writer," Legend shared in a 2017 op-ed for Huffington Post. "She recognized my potential and showed me that I could write with creativity, with clarity, with passion."

He continued, "Mrs. Bodey, along with a few other teachers, helped me gain confidence in my skills and pushed me to challenge myself. They pushed me to graduate second in my class. They pushed me to deliver the speech at our graduation. They pushed me to earn a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, to hone my writing as an English Major and, ultimately, toward a successful career as a songwriter."


The singer was reunited with the most pivotal teacher in her life during her "An Audience with Adele" concert special in 2021. While the singer took questions from the crowd, actress Emma Thompson asked Adele if she had a supporter or protector in the past.

"I had a teacher at [south London high school] Chestnut Grove, who taught me English. That was Miss McDonald," Adele said. "She got me really into English literature. Like, I've always been obsessed with English and obviously now I write lyrics… She really made us care, and we knew that she cared about us."

Miss McDonald then surprised Adele on stage, and the singer was brought to tears — a touching highlight of the special. She even told her former teacher that she still has the books from her class!

Katy Perry

While Perry has admitted that she wishes she had a better overall education, her former music school teacher gave her confidence to pursue singing seriously.

"I'm kind of bummed at this stage that I didn't have a great education because I could really use that these days," she said in a 2014 interview with Yahoo! "There was a teacher named Agatha Danoff who was my vocal teacher and music teacher at the Music Academy of the West. It was very fancy and I didn't come from any money… and she always used to give me a break on my lessons. I owe her a lot of credit and I appreciate that she looked out for me when I didn't have enough money to pay."


Picture a young Shawn Carter — now better known as Jay-Z —  with his head stuck in a dictionary.

"I had a sixth grade teacher, her name was Ms. Lowden and I just loved the class so much," Jay-Z said during his appearance on My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman in 2018. 

He later realized how much Renee Rosenblum-Lowden, who taught him at Intermediate School 318 in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, had an influence on his passion for language. "Like, reading the dictionary and just my love of words," he explained. "I just connected with her."

"I knew he was extremely bright, but he was quiet," Rosenblum-Lowden told Brut in 2019, sharing that he scored at the 12th-grade level on a sixth-grade reading test.

"He's been very kind," she added. "Every famous person has a teacher who probably influenced them, and I wish they would all shout out the way Jay-Z did."

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Rihanna Offers Inspiring Performance Of 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' Song "Lift Me Up" At 2023 Oscars
Rihanna performing at the 2023 Oscars

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images


Rihanna Offers Inspiring Performance Of 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' Song "Lift Me Up" At 2023 Oscars

Following her Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show, Rihanna continues her 2023 comeback with another televised performance — this time, of "Lift Me Up" from 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' at the 2023 Oscars.

GRAMMYs/Mar 13, 2023 - 03:07 am

Rihanna shone with soft glory at the 2023 Oscars tonight with her lustrous performance of "Lift Me Up," the Oscar-nominated song from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

"Lift Me Up" is Rihanna's first Oscar nomination, and other collaborators on the track include Tems, Ryan Coogler and Ludwig Göransson. Göransson composed the original film's score alongside Kendrick Lamar.

Other nominees in the Best Original Song category are “Applause” from Tell It like a Woman (Diane Warren), “Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick (Lady Gaga, BloodPop), “Naatu Naatu” from RRR (M.M. Keeravaani, Chandrabose), and “This Is A Life” from Everything Everywhere All at Once (Ryan Lott, David Byrne, Mitski).

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever also received nominations for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Ruth E. Carter made history as the first Black woman to win two Oscars, winning for Best Costume Design this year and in 2019 (for the original Black Panther).

The performance comes after the nine-time GRAMMY winner's spectacular Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show, which marked her first live performance in seven years (and made for one iconic baby bump reveal).

​​GRAMMY Rewind: Witness Rihanna Accept Her First-Ever GRAMMY Win With JAY-Z For "Umbrella"

Listen To's Women's History Month 2023 Playlist: Swim In The Divine Feminine With These 40 Songs By Rihanna, SZA, Miley Cyrus, BLACKPINK & More
(L-R, clockwise): Rosalía, Rina Sawayama, Rihanna, Doja Cat, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton, Shania Twain

Photos (L-R, clockwise): Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation, Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella, Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ACM, Terry Wyatt/Getty Images


Listen To's Women's History Month 2023 Playlist: Swim In The Divine Feminine With These 40 Songs By Rihanna, SZA, Miley Cyrus, BLACKPINK & More

Who run the world? Harness positive energy during Women's History Month with this immersive playlist honoring Beyoncé, Rina Sawayama, Kim Petras, and more female musicians.

GRAMMYs/Mar 1, 2023 - 03:59 pm

In the words of recent GRAMMY winner Lizzo, it's bad b— o'clock. To kick off Women's History Month, is celebrating with an extensive playlist spotlighting women's divine musical artistry. Perpetually shaping, reinvigorating, and expanding genres, women's creative passion drives the music industry forward.

This March, get ready to unlock self-love with Miley Cyrus' candid "Flowers," or hit the dancefloor with the rapturous Beyoncé's "I'm That Girl." Whether you're searching for the charisma of Doja Cat's "Woman" or confidence of Rihanna's "B— Better Have My Money," this playlist stuns with diverse songs honoring women's fearlessness and innovation.

Women dominate the music charts throughout the year, but this month, dive into their glorious energy by pressing play on our curated Women's History Month playlist, featuring everyone from Dua Lipa to Missy Elliott to Madonna to Kali Uchis.

Listen below on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.

Watch: 6 Thrilling Moments From Rihanna’s Triumphant Return With Performance At Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show
Rihanna performing at Super Bowl LVII

Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images


Watch: 6 Thrilling Moments From Rihanna’s Triumphant Return With Performance At Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show

At the Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show, Rihanna ran through her catalog of hits and successfully reasserted her status as an inimitable R&B superstar.

GRAMMYs/Feb 12, 2023 - 10:49 pm

After seven years, nine-time GRAMMY winner Rihanna made her triumphant return to the stage by taking over one of the biggest platforms in the world: the Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show.

Over the course of 13 minutes, the Fenty Beauty mogul ran through her catalog of hits and successfully reasserted her status as an inimitable R&B superstar. At turns soaring and swaggering, Rihanna’s show was a display of unabashed confidence and a steadfast reminder that even after more than half a decade away, pop remains the province of Barbados’ first love.

Ahead of the show, the hitmaker-turned-billionaire opened up regarding her initial hesitation about hitting the stage — just a few months after having her first child with A$AP Rocky.

"When I first got the call to do it again this year, I was like, 'You sure?' I'm three months postpartum. Should I be making major decisions like this right now? I might regret this," she told Apple Music.

"But when you become a mom, there's something that just happens where you feel like you can take on the world," the singer continued. "The Super Bowl is one of the biggest stages in the world, so as scary as that was because I haven't been on stage in seven years, there's something exhilarating about the challenge of it all."

Below, rounded up the five biggest and most thrilling moments from RiRi's Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Ballin’ Bigger Than LeBron

Forgoing a grand entrance, Rihanna began her set suspended high above the field at Arizona’s State Farm Stadium. And in a bit of a surprise, she opened not with one of her 14 No. 1 hits, but with 2015’s "Bitch Better Have My Money."

"Ballin' bigger than LeBron/ B—, give me your money," she demanded at the top of the show, reminding the world of her innate greatness.

Only Girl In The World

While many a Super Bowl Halftime Show performer before her has trotted out a surprise guest or two — Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, anyone? — the superstar held the spotlight all by herself. 

Even on typically star-studded singles like "Wild Thoughts" and "Run This Town," she opted to strut down the giant runway without any help from collaborators DJ Khaled, Bryson Tiller, Jay-Z, or Kanye West.

That’s How Rih Balls Out

Introduced with a snippet of Talk That Talk favorite "Birthday Cake," Rihanna segued seamlessly into the sexually charged Unapologetic strip-club banger "Pour It Up."

Just a few months postpartum, the Oscar nominee made it clear she’d never loosened her grasp on her sexuality, getting freaky as her army — or navy, rather — of white-clad backup dancers scissor-kicked, leaped and twerked along with her.

Highlight Of My Life, Just Like That Fenty Beauty Kick

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Rihanna performance without a nod to her ultra-successful makeup brand, Fenty Beauty, would it? 

The mogul certainly knew how to sneak her oh-so-subtle product placement into the show, touching up her makeup with a compact as her dancers rushed the field to what was certainly the biggest surprise of the setlist — Kanye’s 2010 smash "All Of the Lights."

Shine Bright Like A Diamond

Donning a floor-length Alaïa coat and gloves to match her sexy all-red ensemble, RiRi once again took to the sky for her grand finale. 

Isolated on her own platform with just a mic stand, the nine-time GRAMMY winner launched into two of her biggest hits: 2007’s "Umbrella" followed by 2012’s "Diamonds."

The back-to-back songs were nothing short of chill-inducing. "Find light in the beautiful sea/ I choose to be happy," Rihanna declared against a backdrop of twinkling lights from the stands and a sky filled with fireworks.

That Legendary Baby Bump Reveal

Rihanna may have just given birth to her first child, a boy, last May, but fans started speculating online that the singer maybe, just maybe, might be with child again during her set. Only after she left the field did her representative confirm to The Hollywood Reporter that Rih is officially expecting her second child with A$AP Rocky. Which, yes, means she performed that entire, effortlessly iconic Super Bowl Halftime Show while pregnant. 

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