addicted Father, a Separated Family, Brother's responsibility like a mum
at 14, to facing bullies and discrimination because of her skin color are not
all she had to face conquering life.
undoubtedly one of the most famous women in the world right now. She had no
fame that came from her family or that of someone she later engaged to. The
odds against Rihanna would have discouraged a less headstrong woman. Her
childhood was full of struggle and pain, abuse and drug use, poverty and
But at 16, her audition made even
Jay Z take notice of the young Barbadian named Robyn Rihanna
Fenton. Nearly 10 years
later, Rihanna has won eight
Grammys, released seven
albums (with an eighth rumored to
drop soon) and earned a spot as the first female
with four No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 in a single
year. She's been on a hot streak as long as her own career.
Just last week, she was named the first black
spokeswoman for Dior. On Monday, Dreamworks released two Rihanna
songs for the animated movie Home. She also provides the
voicefor the lead.
None of that came easily, though. A decade into
her career, Rihanna's story is one of ferocious battles and hard-earned
A difficult family:
Rihanna was born in
Barbados in 1988 to Ronald Fenty, who ran a garment warehouse, and Monica
Braithwaite, an accountant. Along with her younger brother, Rihanna grew up in
a troubled home.
Her father was an alcoholic and a crack addict; Rihanna recounted to Rolling
Stone that he beat her mother and once hit her as well.
It was a constant source of stress in her life.
When Rihanna was 8, she started suffering intense headaches that led a doctor
to think she might have a tumor.
But at 14, when her parents finally divorced after
years of on-and-off separation, Rihanna's headaches stopped. After the
divorce, Braithwaite worked full time and Rihanna took over as her
younger brother's caretaker.
"I grew up fast, kind of like the second
mom," Rihanna told the Guardian.
Though her home life improved, Rihanna was still
bullied at school for her light complexion. Her father was descendant of a Barbadian-Irish group known
as "Redlegs," a term used for poor, white residents of Barbados.
According to Allure, Rihanna fought the
kids in school who teased her for being too white; the bullying lent to
Rihanna's reputation for being painfully shy.
But she was tough too: As a teenager, Rihanna was in the army cadets and
actually reached the rank of corporal. She was a self-proclaimed tomboy, and
joined the cadets to show guys she was tough. Her drill sergeant was none other
than fellow Barbadian pop singer Shontelle.
"This thick skin has been developing since
my first day at school," Rihanna toldHarper's
Bazaar. "It didn't happen after fame; I couldn't survive fame if I
didn't already have it. So sometimes the toughest thing in life is to be
Though she was shy, Rihanna won her
high school beauty pageant at 15 for singing Mariah Carey's "Hero."
She loved to sing so much — at the beach,
at the club, around the house — that her neighbors called her "Robyn Red
Breast." According to Rolling Stone,
"She always knew she wanted to be a pop star."
"I kind of laughed at these stupid
pageants," she told the Daily
Mail in 2007. "But my friends at school dared me to do it, and my
military training came in handy for learning to balance books on my head for
Not long after winning that beauty pageant, a
16-year-old Rihanna caught the
eye of a vacationing American record producer, Evan Rogers,
during an audition organized by the producer. He knew he'd found someone big.
Within months, Rihanna had left Barbados and moved into Rogers'
Connecticut home with him and his wife. In Connecticut, Rogers and Rihanna
recorded a demo featuring a version of "Pon de Replay."
"When I left Barbados, I didn't look
back," Rihanna toldPeople magazine.
"I wanted to do what I had to do, even [if] it meant moving to
Rogers sent the demo tape to labels around the
country, and it landed on
the desk of then-newly appointed Def Jam president Jay Z. At just 16 years old,
Rihanna was summoned by the hip-hop legend to audition for a spot on the label.
She performed Whitney Houston's "For the Love of You" at the Def Jam
"I signed her in one day," Jay-Z toldRolling Stone.
"It took me two minutes to see she was a star."
In May 2005, four months after
she signed to Def Jam, Rihanna released her first single, "Pon de
Replay." The song peaked at No. 2 on
the Billboard Hot 100, and helped put Rihanna's first album, Music of
the Sun, on the map. Eight months later, she released A Girl Like
Me, and in June 2007, Rihanna released "Umbrella," which reached
No. 1 on the chart, making the singer a bona fide pop star off a song
originally written for
Mary J. Blige. It's hard to imagine anyone else doing it so well.
Today, Rihanna is 27, and from the looks of it,
she's just getting started. Already a philanthropist, fashion icon andactor, she has overcome
seemingly insurmountable odds to become one of the most powerful celebrities
in the world.
"It's amazing how lonely you can feel and
like nobody understands," Rihanna told Oprah.
"The moment you are vulnerable, someone always reaches out. They go
through the same things. I want them to feel comfortable knowing that I have flaws
as well. I want them to know those flaws. I'm afraid of the pedestal. I want to
be a peer to my fans."
Rihanna's story is inspiring. It reveals that,
when she hits those resilient notes, they're coming from an authentic place.