A career highlight for journalist and Curb Visiting Scholar in the Arts Isabel González Whitaker has been twice interviewing Beyoncé Knowles-Carter for cover stories for InStyle magazine. González Whitaker elaborates on her interactions with and respect for the superstar over the years in the newly released essay anthology QUEEN BEY: A Celebration of the Power and Creativity of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter.
“She means business but she’s kind, smiles a lot, and is quick to laugh at herself,” recalls González Whitaker about one of her interview sessions with Beyoncé. “What struck me the most, though, was how supportive she was of me, and it’s why I know her sense of sisterhood is real, that she truly is a woman’s woman.”
This academic year, González Whitaker has been mentoring the fellows of Rhodes’ Mike Curb Institute for Music. “The Curb Institute gives students opportunities and experiences to dig into the Memphis music story into a variety of ways,” says Curb Director John Bass.
“Beyoncé’s history and legacy is deeply rooted in the South, and I think that aspect of her makes her all the more interesting and complicated as a star, artist, and culture-maker,” adds González Whitaker. “Many of the themes of identity, culture, and politics she surfaces are the ones we live, see, and touch daily in Memphis.”
As a culmination of her work with the Curb Institute, González Whitaker put together and moderated an event titled “Queen Bey and the Intersection of Justice, Identity, and Popular Culture in the South.” Held March 27 in McNeill Concert Hall, it included QUEEN BEY editor Veronica Chambers, activist Carmen Perez, and Memphis artists Talibah Safiya and James “IMAKEMADBEATS” Dukes.
At the event, Dukes said, “With the commercialization of music, a lot of people just get caught up in this idea that music, which is art, is simply to make you dance, or to help you have a good time. Yes, it is for those things, but it also is for much more than that . . . Music is interesting in that way that it can seep into your mind and take up space and then explode with a reality that makes you have to think about yourself.”
Chambers talked about the inspiration for the QUEEN BEY book, which features a diverse group of voices, from academics to cultural critics to Hollywood stars, and their take on different aspects of Beyoncé as an artist, businesswoman, mother, daughter, sister, wife, and feminist.
“Beyoncé definitely has had so many periods and layers of work, and she’s still going, so it was exciting to be able to get 21 authors to talk and think about these ideas,” said Chambers.
In addition to the Curb Institute, the Rhodes event was sponsored by the Lynne and Henry Turley Memphis Center at Rhodes and the Department of Music.