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A Date With Destiny

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In order to better understand Destiny's Child, we must head to Beyonce and Kelly's hometown of Houston and drop by the two places where the girls spent the most time: church and the Headliners Hair Salon. Tina Knowles is actually the owner, but as she is on the road with the girls most of the time, her best friend, Vernell Jackson, presides as manager. It's a Friday night at 7:30, and the joint is jumping: Rick James is on the speakers, a pigtailed little girl runs around the shop, and five stylists are hard at work on customers. One stylist is tall and stately, with long, lush blond hair, exactly like . . . Beyonce? He turns around. It's Beyonce's second cousin, Kenric. Dang. The resemblance is uncanny.

There are two posters of Destiny's Child in the window, and by the register there's a glass case displaying Destiny's Child T-shirts. As customers leave, some of them say, "I'll see you Sunday," meaning church. There is a direct path from Headliners to the church and back. Jackson, a warm, pretty woman in dark red braids, hurries over. She has known Beyonce and Kelly forever and is very patient when the calls come into the salon. "From all over the country," she says, laughing."'I want to speak to Beyonce! Is Michelle there? I want to speak to Miss Tina!' " They send photos, pleading letters, tapes; they ask about Beyonce's latest hairstyle. Back in the day, the girls (Beyonce, Kelly, plus original members Roberson and Luckett) used to try out routines in the salon, when it was on Montrose Boulevard. As Tina recalls, "They used to go in and perform, and make the customers sit there." She laughs. "The customers couldn't leave, because they were locked under the dryers."

"Sometimes we would collect tips," recalls Beyonce, "and go to this theme park called AstroWorld."

"They were about nine or ten," Jackson recalls. "They would do their little routines, and Mathew would ask us to critique: 'Well, what do you think? What needs to be worked on?' And they would start all over again. Beyonce particularly always had that thing about, 'I want to do it right.' She wanted to work on it, like her singing and her voice lessons and her dancing. She always wanted to be maybe like Janet Jackson or Michael Jackson – those type of people." Destiny's Child was always a family affair – Tina Knowles designed the girls' costumes, while Mathew quit his job selling medical equipment to manage the quartet. During the school year, they performed local gigs – schools, even a day-care center: "It had a little stage," says Beyonce, and before the performance, we were trying to figure out the name of our group." (Oh, there have been many: Cliche, GirlsTyme, Somethin' Fresh.) She laughs. "It was about fifteen little kids in the audience, who didn't know what was going on."

When summer breaks came, Mathew formed a kind of structured summer camp for them, filled with dance and vocal lessons and exercise. "There was a lot of stuff they had to sacrifice," says Jackson, "and that was basically the friendships that they would have formed outside. But they were determined. And people think that parents push your child to do this, but Mathew and Tina weren't ever like that. The way they were was, 'My daughter wants to do it, and this is the one thing that she wants to do.'"

When Beyonce talks about the bad press her dad gets, her voice catches. "I don't even like to talk about it," she says haltingly. "He is so protective of all of us, and he's a great father and a great manager."

Kelly considers him a father, too. Early on in the group's career, when Kelly was nine, she moved in with the Knowles family, with the blessing of her mom, Doris, then a nanny. (Kelly's father is not in the picture. "Who's he?" she says dismissively.) "I'm just so blessed to have Beyonce, who is like my sister, and the Knowleses in my life when I was growing up," says Kelly. "I am telling you, I couldn't dance. You know, it took some work on Kelly to get to where she is today."

"They were always like sisters," says Jackson. "When Kelly started out, she was this little shy person who wouldn't open her mouth. And when I see her now - she gets up and she talks. And I'm like, 'Where did this person come from?'" She laughs. "Her and her little dog." She yells to someone, "What's Kelly's dog's name?"

"Jacques," someone hollers back.

"Jacques. I think he walks like Kelly, too."

There were a series of setbacks in the early days, including a loss on Star Search. "Even when it hurt so bad, we're still smiling," remembers Kelly, "and when we walked offstage, everybody just broke down. Imagine ten- or eleven-year-olds just breaking down and crying." She shakes her head. "Now that I'm thinking about it, I want to cry."

In 1996, the quartet got its big break and put its debut album out on Columbia two years later. The group's career really ignited with 1999's hitpacked The Writing's on the Wall, which turned out to be a prescient title. Around that time, it seemed as if the four were splitting into two different groups. Tensions steadily mounted along with the band's fame, and in March of 2000, Roberson and Luckett charged Mathew with, among other things, breach of contract and favoritism (the lawsuit against Mathew is still pending).

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