There is a peculiar artist’s way that orders the steps of the intriguing and impressively hush-hush 61-year-old whom industry folk, gay kids and the massive “BeyHive” affectionately know as Miss Tina. Yes, she is the North Star to her megafamous daughters Beyoncé and Solange—and bonus babies Kelly Rowland and niece Angie Beyince—alike. No, she is not a momager. It appears she’s got zero reality show celeb mom hat tricks, and she has, at least once, lost it on the paparazzi. Somewhat against stereotype, what the onetime divorcée and newly married Celestine “Tina” Knowles Lawson seems to be is simply the archetype of an independent woman.
Her speech, still Texas twangy when it wants to be, is peppered with youthful colloquialisms and the more-than-occasional curse word. After 31 years of marriage and reports of her first husband’s infidelity, she privately divorced former Destiny’s Child manager Mathew Knowles in 2011. (After which, she says son-in-law Jay Z initially wanted her to date younger men.) Now emotionally resurrected, thanks in large part to the unwavering support of her girls, she is whole. Proof? Fabulous images from her wedding to the stately veteran television and film actor Richard Lawson stormed the Internet in the spring. By all measures, she is dangerously in love.
But Knowles Lawson also matter-of-factly shares that she is not—and has never been—a kept woman. She’s on no one’s payroll, thank you, and she wants it that way. Beyoncé certainly doesn’t pay her, at least not in cash. The breathtakingly gorgeous grandmother does Pilates five days a week and has a ravishing body (not for her age, but period; see exclusive EBONY photographs); is in talks for a TV show about “getting your groove back;” does a daily morning prayer; works with charities to support the homeless; and is a self-taught, avid Black art collector and historian (who owns originals from greats such as Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett and John Biggers). But this is all her new life. In her old one, crafted out of poverty, she made sandwiches and dresses to sell to classmates, rode motorcycles without a helmet, became a professional makeup artist at 19, and always did—as in did everyone’s hair. Sure, she’s what magazines call “sexy at any age” because of that tight waist, but arguably, it’s as much due to her natural-born artisan and rebel soul.
To set the stage for her April 2015 nuptials, the family created a private, feature length movie: The Life & Times of BadAss Tenie B & ColdAss Rickey Lee. The release came complete with a red carpet event. Part blaxsploitation spoof, part anthropological family documentary, the film confirms that the story of Knowles Lawson’s life—and her self-possessed “sexy”—began long before the world encountered her gifted offspring. Born in Galveston, Texas, where the Freedman’s Bureau was headquartered after slavery was abolished, and a few hundred miles from mystical New Orleans, where her family is from, one can sense that the newlywed has always conjured a kind of Free Black Woman Magic.
In an exclusive EBONY interview, the enigmatic bombshell lovingly references her “first family” of entertainment and opens up about her life. The last of seven siblings, each of whom has one of four variations of the same last name Boyance (“The hospital told my mama be happy we even got birth certificates.”) “Tenie B,” her nickname since childhood, shares that she was mistreated by Black nuns in elementary school, took off solo to California at 18, and by 34, with little ones in tow, opened one of the biggest, baddest Black hair salons Houston had ever known. In an hours-long interview, and while snuggled under chenille blankets and gazing out at the spectacular view of Hollywood from her home, Knowles Lawson details the major phases of her life that include mothering a global phenom and her multifaceted fashionista sister. Most important, she says, she’s doing all this while still living her own damn life.
To read the entire interview, pick up the July issue of EBONY.