An Intimate Evening With Solange Knowles

An Intimate Evening With Solange Knowles

Julianne Ishler

The singer shared the “everyday feelings, everyday confrontations” that influenced her landmark album.

On an otherwise quiet September night in Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art was bustling with energy. A large crowd—mostly made up of young African-American women—gathered inside the museum’s Edlis Neeson Theater for a sold-out conversation between Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Solange Knowles and Chicago writer Britt Julious.

The talk was part of the series “In Sight Out,” a collaboration with Pitchfork. The goal is to explore new perspectives in art, music and culture. For the event’s attendees, however, it was more than a chat with a well-known artist—it was a night celebrating black women.

“It was important for me to support Solange,” Kiara Nix, a Service Excellence Representative for the Chicago Cubs, told me. “I’ve been a fan of Solange’s since her album ‘True,’ and on top of that she’s been talking about all that’s happening now for black women in general.”

Solange’s honesty, sense of humor and personal anecdotes carried the weight of her hour-long conversation with Julious. Solange said that being unapologetic, taking risks and learning to say no were what led her to create one of the most praised albums of the last year, “A Seat At The Table.” The milestone project not only challenged pop standards but sparked new conversations about being a black woman in America.

“This was an album for my own exploration and self-care,” Solange told Julious. “They [the lyrics] were everyday feelings, everyday confrontations that were staring me in the face. They were things that I didn’t choose to write about—those words chose to be there.”

Documenting her feelings, she said, was pivotal to the process of creating “A Seat At The Table.” When it comes to completing projects, she’s the first to admit she “moves slow,” laughing that it’s the “Houston” in her. But by taking time to create her work, she was able to concentrate on each narrative and the emotions it evoked. She found power in fear and in standing up for what she believes in.

I talked to Rebecca Sanders, the Vice President of Talent Acquisition at PR and consulting agency Weber Shandwick. Sanders came to the event with her daughter. She called Solange’s authenticity “inspiring.”

“I’m significantly older than she is, and it’s nice to see she’s starting to recognize that it’s OK to be herself and when you have that epiphany, the freedom that comes with it,” said Sanders. “I think what she showed tonight is that she’s fully engaged in her growth as an artist and how excited she is to share where she started.”

Sanders’ daughter, Yanni Simmons, is a student at University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. She says Solange is “pivotal to [my] growth as a rising adult black woman.”

Solange closed out the conversation by touching on how black artists—especially black female artists—have to fight twice as hard as everyone else and are often told they should “just be happy to be there.” Simmons found that sentiment hauntingly relevant, saying, “That’s so true and happens way too often.”

A common theme emerged as I spoke to the attendees: they found hope in Solange’s complete transparency with her fans. “I think just being her authentic self is inspiring to women everywhere,” Simmons said. “Listening to your gut and knowing what you feel is right and not questioning yourself to do something will get you far.”

“I feel…if you’re comfortable with yourself, you’re comfortable with being black and being a woman and viewing the world in the black women’s lens is OK,” Kiara Nix said.

For Solange, the black woman’s lens is the most powerful tool, and a force driving her work. By influencing others to see the beauty in that, she’s inspiring the next generation to rise to their full potential.

Top photo via GettyImages