A quick scroll through Riley Knoxx’s Instagram page and you might mistake her for Beyoncé. Yes, that Beyoncé.
Knoxx, a 36-year-old from Washington D.C. is a Beyoncé impersonator and has made a living for the past 14 years belting out lyrics by the award-winning musician.
We caught up with Knoxx, where she opened up about her start as a Beyoncé impersonator, her musical influences, and her close ties to the transgender community.
Thank you for agreeing to speak with us. Let’s get right into it — why Beyoncé?
In 2003, I was asked to perform at someone’s birthday party and it was the year that Crazy In Love came out. It was the biggest song of the year. I had already been impersonating Janet Jackson for two years and I wanted to switch it up because I really loved the song and it was so popular.
So I studied Beyoncé’s dance moves, her costumes, and mannerisms. I even brought wind machines with me to the party and before I got there about 10 other performers had already performed the song but after I did it no one else wanted to perform it. It was that night that I got dubbed “DC Own Beyoncé.” Over the next 13 years, I immersed myself into everything Beyoncé.
Beyonce’s alter ego is Sasha Fierce. Yours is?
Riley Knoxx. The real me — Ri — is absolutely nothing like what you see on stage. That person only appears when the lights come on, when I hear the scream of the audience, and when I’m dressed up in a leotard with wind machines! I love my costumes on stage but trust me I would much rather be in workout clothes! It’s fun to be able to turn it on and off. It would be EXHAUSTING to be on 24/7.
What are your favorite Beyoncé songs to perform?
It’s whatever the song the audience is going to sing the most like Say My Name, Love On Top, Formation. Most recently, my favorite song has been All Night from Lemonade.
When prepping for shows, do you listen to Beyoncé to get in the groove or other artists?
What’s your favorite Beyoncé fashion/style era?
I really love the B’Day era. The album was so amazing and had so many different looks especially with the videos that she did for the album. But I’m also loving Lemonade because there’s something about the Victorian fashion and all the lace and puffy sleeves. I’ve been wearing that a lot on stage lately with my leotards.
Let’s delve into Riley Knoxx, the artist. Describe your sound, who you are as a musician.
My singing style is very different than what I do when I’m impersonating Beyoncé. When I released my first song I had the idea that I was going to be completely different and completely opposite. I even decided I was going to wear my hair dark and not blonde, but then it was my choreographer who told me that Beyoncé is how people came to love me, and I needed to transition slower when getting people to like just me and not completely cut them off from what I was doing as Beyoncé.
Who are your musical influences?
My musical influences are all over the place. I love Barbra Streisand. I love Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, George Michael, Lisa Stansfield, Tupac, Sarah McLaughlin, Janet Jackson but Beyoncé is definitely my biggest influence as an entertainer and performer.
Do you fear your impersonations could hinder your own growth, success as a solo artist? That you’d only be known as the “Beyoncé impersonator”?
I always wanted to be an entertainer as a kid. But I never thought that something that started off as a hobby would turn into a full-time career and take me all over the world. Think about it: I’ve been doing this for 14 years. Thank God people haven’t gotten tired of seeing me do it because I definitely am not tired of doing it. Fortunately, I impersonate someone who is constantly growing and evolving so as she grows and involves I have to also.
My career as a solo artist came years after I had already been known for being a Beyoncé impersonator. Do I get called Beyoncé more than my actual name? Yes. Do I mind it? Well, there are worst people to be compared to, so.
Which Beyoncé album would you say best describes Riley Knoxx?
Probably the Beyoncé album. It was the first time that Beyoncé took a lot of risks and decided to jump out of the box and not be so safe and do what she loves and not worry about what people think. That’s how I’ve lived my whole adult life.
Your Instagram profile says you’re an activist. What causes do you hold close to your heart?
The biggest cause that is closest to my heart is transgender rights, safety, and visibility. Because I am transgender, it is my goal that no kid has to grow up feeling not good enough or that they have no one to look up to because they are different from someone else. So a lot of the work that I do is to bring awareness to who transgender people are and that we are citizens and capable, a part of society, deserving of respect, and we’re not going anywhere.
What is your message to the transgender community?
The greatest gift you can give yourself is to be who you are against all odds. Being different and being afraid to live your life authentically is natural, but it gets better. You just have to decide this is who I am, and I’m the first example of how the world is supposed to love me.
Where can people go to watch you perform?
In Washington D.C at Town Danceboutique Friday and Saturday nights at 10:30 p.m., Nellie’s Sports Bar on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. We tour year-round, the schedule is on my social media.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.