On September 4, 1981, Beyoncé Knowles was born in Houston, Texas to her mother, a hair salon owner, and her father, a Xerox sales associate. From a young age, she was drawn to music and dance. By the time she was eight years old, she and her childhood friend Kelly Rowland auditioned for an all-girl entertainment group, where they met LaTavia Roberson and were placed in a group called Girl’s Tyme with three other girls. The group rapped and danced on the talent show circuit in the Houston area.
After catching the attention of R&B producer Arne Frager, who placed them on Star Search, Beyoncé’s father resigned from his job in 1995 to manage the group. In 1996, Girl’s Tyme—only a four-person outfit—transitioned to Destiny’s Child on Columbia Records. The girl group reigned from their 1997 release of “Killing Time” through Destiny Fulfilled in 2004, which they released a year after Beyoncé’s solo debut, Dangerously In Love in 2003.
Now, nearly two decades later, at 40 years old, the celebrated global icon has six solo albums under her belt—earning her 28 Grammys—an Academy record. She has 62 total career Grammy nominations.
But her imprint extends far beyond her enduring musical legacy. At the 2020 BET Awards, former First Lady Michelle Obama presented Beyoncé with the Humanitarian Award. The honor recognized the icon for her activism, specifically through her non-profit organization the BeyGOOD initiative, through which she has helped provide free COVID-19 testing and mental health services in Houston during the pandemic, as well as a dedicated wing in a Houston hospital and assistance for families in need. The initiative also has created scholarships and support for historically Black colleges and universities in addition to funding humanitarian causes everywhere from the African nation of Burundi to Flint, Michigan.
To celebrate the legendary artist’s 40th birthday, the American Songwriter staff shared 10 of their favorite Beyoncé songs below: