Women of Color Ran The Super Bowl – And Not Just Beyoncé

In the process of writing this I’ve clicked on over a dozen Beyoncé-hate memes. As if it’s super novel to criticize a woman of color. Maybe the frustration with her popularity, success and the unwavering devotion to her from people like me stems more from the imbalance of praise. It seems the only way a woman of any shade can gain recognition or achieve praise in most cultures is by being exceptionally beautiful, vocally and/or rhythmically gifted, have thighs that make the world weep and are extraordinarily pleasant like all the damn time. It’s the idea that someone like Mrs. Shawn Carter is the standard for all of us and is crafted to perfection via the bane of all our existences: pop music. That’s gotta be it, right? Like a little bit? I won’t argue with any of that.

The Super Bowl featured other beautiful, talented and highly respected women of color besides Beyonce – Alicia Keys and Jennifer Hudson both had incredible performances, and haven’t been subject to the amount of backlash that Beyonce seems to have been. But what Beyonce’s critics don’t seem to be taking into account is how Beyonce has used her fame and momentum to do more than just make us all swoon – she’s used it to give other talented women of color the invitation into the spotlight that they deserve. Today we’re going to look past Beyoncé and into her fucking awesome band and kind of swoon there and talk about things.

Beyoncé works with an all-female band called “The Suga Mamas.” This isn’t an accident. This is a very intentional choice made by the Beyoncé brand to promote women in the music industry, to showcase talented women that run the gamut of presentations and skin color while still aligning to the core values of the B brand: girl power aka sisterhood, independence, and badassery. (I don’t know if those are the official core values. They are most definitely the ones I’ve made up for the sake of this piece.) Beyoncé found most of her original 10-piece female band via American Idol-esque tricks. She put out the word for an international musician casting call for her I Am…Sasha Fierce tour. Thousands of musicians applied but only a few made the cut.

There aren’t a lot of all-female bands. And the ones that do exist aren’t gaining exposure on a national level via the Superbowl (which is obviously not a big deal to some people, but when discussing advertising dollars and viewership it becomes a huge player in this game of visibility that we’re constantly playing). So we got the Suga Mamas on tv, y’all! Who the fuck are they? We’ll highlight a few and name drop the rest because goddamn it’s hard to find info on all of these awesome women.

Let’s start with the guitarist that brought Jimi Hendrix’s spirit to the Super Dome while shooting sparkler flames from both ends of her instrument.

Bibi McGill
Music Director, Guitarist, Entrepreneur and Renaissance Woman

Bibi McGill image courtesy of blackgirllonghair.com

Bibi is gloriously tattooed, rocks natural hair and is pretty much an all around badass worthy of the internet buzz surrounding her Super Bowl performance. But she’s way more than that, Bibi McGill focuses her business and life around sustainable living. When interviewed about her organic kale chips “Bibi Chips” and her earth-friendly lifestyle, McGill told EcoLiving, “I try do everything I can to be conscious of everything living thing: plants, animals, stars, the moon, you, me.” Word, Bibi, word the fuck up.

Check out McGill at the Musicians Institute.

Before playing with Beyoncé, I didn’t know that many female musicians period…I’m really honored and proud to be a part of this movement.

Rie Tsuji
Assistant Musical Director and Keyboardist

Rie Tsuji via flickr

Tsuji is from Saga, Japan. She started playing piano at age 6 with the Yamaha Music Foundation. She studied jazz piano at Berkley University in 2006, went on tour with R&B singer Eric Benet and then boom, was Beyoncé bound. Least that’s how her blog lays it all out. Either way, she’s here and she’s unfucking believable.

Kat Rodriguez
Saxophonist, Composer, Singer and Songwriter

Rodriguez was one of the lucky artists handpicked by Bey to be a part of her touring band. She’s performed with an eclectic group of artists besides Bey as well, like Kanye West, George Michaels and Jill Scott. Homegirl even released an album last year highlighting her vocal skills.

Kat Rodriguez via katrodriguezmusic.com

Kat Rodriguez via katrodriguezmusic.com

Kim Thompson

Thompson was born in Los Angeles, California and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. According to Drummer Magazine, she’s toured in “over 33 countries” and performed at legendary music clubs such as The Blue Note and the Avalon. For more on Kim Thompson, check out her interview on Vimeo with Raymond Spaddy.

Kim Thompson for TomTom Magazine


Crystal J Torres

via <a href="http://www.westoaklanefestival.com/PerformerDetail.aspx?id=161372">West Oak Lane Festival</a>

Along with the trumpet, Torres is also supremely talented when it comes to vocals and songwriting. Besides Beyoncé, she’s also worked with Cee-Lo Green, Jennifer Lopez, Keri Hilson, and Lupe Fiasco, and that’s just a start. Her self-produced debut album is Life Lessons: Vol. 1, and she’ll have something new out in Spring 2013.

Marcie Chapa

Chapa has been obsessed with the drums since she was in high school. Although her family wasn’t well off, she won a scholarship to the New School For Jazz And Contemporary Music. Later, she won Beyoncé’s attention in the auditions for her all-female band, and has been with her since the BET awards in Houston.

Tia Fuller

Fuller has released three albums with her jazz quartet: Decisive Steps, Pillar of Strength, and Healing Space. She performs with a variety of bands, including the Ralph Peterson Septet, the T.S. Monk Septet, the Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra, the Rufus Reid Septet, the Sean Jones Quintet and the Nancy Wilson Jazz Orchestra.

Brittani Washington

Both Washington’s parents are pastors, and her keyboarding skills were first displayed in her home church. She played in her parents’ church five days a week from the age of six on. She impressed Beyoncé in her auditions, and has been touring with her ever since. Washington’s solo album, Pink Polish, is available on iTunes.

And then there are the remaining mystery two that all my googling hasn’t procured. Seriously, check out how vague this PR Newswire statement is regarding the members of the SugaMamas.

It’s because we’re all so focused on Beyoncé that no one gives enough of a fuck to ask who those other girls are. I’m always going to ask who the other girls are. I may love Bey but when it comes to the women who catch my attention in real life, it’s the ones not being showered with ridiculous amounts of attention. I notice the girls in corners doing their own thing or finding their moment to shine based on the art that fuels them. Aren’t we all those people kind of? So let’s make sure to give them their due.

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Gabrielle Rivera is an awesomely queer Bronx bred, writer, spoken word artist and director. Her short stories and poems have been published in various anthologies such as the Lambda Award winning Portland Queer: Tales from the Rose City and The Best of Panic! En Vivo from the East Village. Her short film "Spanish Girls are Beautiful" follows a group of young Latina and Caucasian girls who like girls as they hook up, smoke up and try to figure sh*t out. She also freelances for Autostraddle.com while working in the film and television industry. Gabrielle is currently working on her first novel while bouncing around NYC performing spoken word and trying to stick it to the man.

gabby has written 102 articles for us.


  1. Now, this! This is what I think we should be celebrating! Thank you for this, G. The band is incredible.

    As you saw from my FB comments, I AM one of those “haters.” I’m not actually hating. I’m just being critical because I think we should be of pop culture in general. I’m somewhat disappointed that gorgeous pop stars who throw us a gay bone from time to time are like Catholic saints in the queer world.

    And, I’m not just talking about pop stars of color. I find it interesting that folks will write article after article about how some store is selling Native American patterns on a shirt, when Madonna is the queen of cultural appropriation and helps perpetuate racism. She’s made countless dollars off of Vogue, which was born in uptown NYC by gay men of color, and yet the Bronx Community Pride Center had to close because of lack of funding and Harlem residents are getting displaced by gentrification. She sold her “Like a Prayer” video featuring her kissing a black man in front of a burning cross to PEPSI! And, here we are (including my girl, who is her biggest fan) jumping around to Holiday at every gay party. Hello? Is anybody out there? bell hooks will break it down for you:


    My beef with Bey’s Superbown performance? Yeah, she’s hot. Yeah, I wish she’d do a private version of that stomp walk in my room. But, Jay-Z doesn’t have to run around in his BVDs to electrify a stage and be an inspiration to young boys to come out of poverty and become a CEO.

    And, as a football fan, my head starts to pound year after year with all of the people who go out of their way to “hate” on the Superbowl. All I hear is how it’s such a male ritual. It’s bad enough that women are are discouraged from playing and watching sports. 50% of the NFL’s fans are WOMEN! Women actually LIKE playing and watching sports, and we should be encouraging that. The Superbowl being a male-only event is a gender-biased myth. And, what about talking about how great sports is for these EXTREMELY talented young men (and women in sports too), many of those players men of color, finding a way to go to college, learning about teamwork, having physical abilities that are beyond ordinary reach…sports has broken racial boundaries throughout history, etc.? What about celebrating Raven’s linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo for using the Superbowl media to speak out in support of LGBTQ rights?

    Everyone was losing their mind over Beyonce, and as a sports fan, I just found her to be another (HOT) half-naked side show (like the cheerleaders, and sexy commercials, etc.) that flood the screen during the games. If half of the NFL fans are women, why is it that the only women we see during games are half naked? What message does that send? And, the reality is that a lot young people in today’s fame obsessed culture are going to want to be Beyonce (or some version of the “front person”), not Beyonce’s back-up band/singers. Because, look at how we treat poor Michelle and Kelly. Ouch!

    Besides, as purdy as Bey is, she also supports the fur industry too.

    • Yup! The queer media has spun Beyonce’s performance into a political feminist frenzy, as if we were all just sitting around painting our nails and waiting for Beyonce to liberate us from the chains of football. I am an athlete and more empowered by other athletes no matter their gender. Athletes have to literally be the best in the world at what they do and are judged first and foremost by their athletic abilities. You can’t play for the NFL or women’s Olympic soccer team because you’re an average player but significantly cuter than your competitors. Pop stars are judged first and foremost by what they look like. No matter how talented this band, Alicia Keys, or Jennifer Hudson are they will never reach Beyonce’s status as long as they aren’t as attractive. Hence the backlash and my refusal to acknowledge the overall performance as a great moment in feminist history.

  2. I’ve always admired this band and give Beyonce major props for making the choice to put female musicians front and center. Sad to say that I didn’t know what they called themselves, let alone who they were individually, until reading this. Suga Mamas is such a cute name, badass too. Thanks, Carmen.

  3. I have spent the last week listening to and drooling over the mad-ass, groovy-as-fuck beats on Beyonce’s ‘I am…’ live tour album, so this is so relevant to my interests.

    Fun fact: said album involves both a vibraslap and the phrase ‘where yo fingers at?’

  4. I loved that Beyoncé has an all-female band. She made Bibi McGill my super shero during that half-time performance. I love guitarists.

  5. Bibi McGill on a pyrotechnic fucking guitar solo time!

    Ugh I have *endorphins* still just thinking about that halftime show and how amazing it was and it is sad on my behalf that I hadn’t know about The Suga Mamas prior.

  6. these musicians definitely caught my attention during the half-time show, thank you for telling us who the fuck they are

  7. Not only are these women incredibly talented, they’re all really really ridiculously good-looking. Like DAMN Crystal Torres. Just DAMN.

  8. The first and only time I saw Beyoncé live was at a TV recording, and I was sat by a group of women who LOVED the Suga Mamas, they kept cheering for them in between takes like MAD. There were a lot of people who also cheered for BiBi, and I thought it was really cool that despite the fact people are there for Bey the musicians get recognized and cheered on. I ended up ovationing them as well!

  9. Sweeeeeeet. The beginning to Rie’s piano solo is from my favourite piano concerto by Grieg <3

  10. This article is AWESOME… SO MUCH TALENT. Crystal J Torres on that trumpet & Kim on the drums… WOW!!! I am totally crushing on these ladies.

  11. I’ve been crushing on Bibi for years. Glad she’s finally getting some recognition. Good to read about all other ladies too. Holy crap! If I ever got the chance to play in a band full of awesome ladies like this I don’t know if I’d be able to handle it. Definitely an inspiration to keep practicing, though.

  12. so glad ya’ll were into this post. also, yes female drummers. mostly: females doing anything.

  13. i finally got to watch the beyonce bowl today and i was so excited- first i counted the men, and then i counted the white girls, and i was just like YES POC GIRL POWER BEY IS THE BEST I LOVE YOU and cried all the tears.

  14. Far from a fan of Beyonce’s music. I think the idol worship is pretty disturbing, but I am glad that she deliberately chose all women for her band.

  15. Gabby, i’m so glad you put this post together, i’m really excited to know who these women are. I noticed them during the halftime show, and i wanted to know more.
    this is awesome. Thank you.

  16. Late to the game on this post but had to comment. The band consist of an amazing group of musicians. I remember when the search for the touring band went out as it became a huge piece of news especially when Bibi and several others were featured in her music videos. It’s important to celebrate not only female vocalists but female musicians that create the music.

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