Super Bowl: A look back at 10 halftime performances by Black artists

If you haven’t heard, Grammy Award-winning artist Rihanna will perform live for the first time since 2018 on Sunday, Feb. 12.

Oh, and the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles will be competing for the Super Bowl before and after the singer’s halftime show.

A tradition during American football games at all levels of competition, a halftime show is a performance given during the brief period between the first and second halves, or the second and third quarters.

International icon, entrepreneur and philanthropist Rihanna will take center stage at the Super Bowl LVII halftime show.

The halftime shows initially started with university marching bands, drill teams and other performance ensembles. It wasn’t until Super Bowl IV in 1970 when singers took the stage, including soprano Marguerite Piazza and comedian Carol Channing.

Two years later, the first Black musician performed during the halftime show. Since then, more than 40 Black artists have entertained crowds at the Super Bowl.

Out of the 56 Super Bowls held, here are 10 memorable halftime shows where Black artists took the stage.

Super Bowl VI: Ella Fitzgerald

In 1972, jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald became not only the first jazz artist to perform the halftime show, but also the first Black woman in Super Bowl history to take the stage.

Set in New Orleans, the show was a tribute to Louis Armstrong, who had died the year prior.

Al Hirt plays the trumpet while Ella Fitzgerald sings at the Super Bowl in 1972. The show that year paid tribute to jazz legend Louis Armstrong, who died the year before.

Fitzgerald performed “Mack the Knife,” a 1928 song by German composer Kurt Weill. Armstrong had released a cover in 1955 and Fitzgerald released her Grammy Award-winning rendition five years later.

Trumpeter Al Hirt joined her during the performance.

Fitzgerald’s Super Bowl halftime performance is not available online, but you can watch her perform the song here.

Super Bowl XXVII: Michael Jackson

On Jan. 31, 1993, pop icon Michael Jackson became the first Black man to perform by himself during the halftime show at a Super Bowl.

The performance began with actor James Earl Jones voicing an introduction to Jackson. The singer than appeared at the top of the Rose Bowl’s two jumbotrons, using body doubles.

Pop superstar Michael Jackson performing during the halftime show at the Super Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Feb. 1, 1993.

Jackson then catapulted from center stage and stood completely frozen and silent for nearly two minutes before his guitarist started the show. His medley included “Jam,” “Billie Jean,” “Black or White,” “We Are the World” and “Heal the World.”

The 1993 halftime show holds the record for the most-watched halftime show on network TV, with 133 million viewers.

Watch the performance here.

Super Bowl XXX: Diana Ross

Another piece of history was made in 1996 when R&B legend Diana Ross became the first Black woman to hold a solo performance at a Super Bowl.

The show included many costume changes, pyrotechnics and special effects.

Diana Ross performs onstage during halftime of the Dallas Cowboys game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., on Jan. 28, 1996.

Starting the performance standing on a crane, Ross was lowered and began a medley including “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Baby Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I Will Survive.”

The show ended with Ross singing “Take Me Higher.” She then looked to the sky and said to the crowd, “Oh, my, here comes my ride.” A helicopter came into the stadium and Ross was taken from the field in the rotorcraft.

Watch the performance here.

Super Bowl XXXII: Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Temptations and Queen Latifah

The halftime show’s theme was “A Tribute to Motown’s 40th Anniversary” and featured some of the biggest names of R&B at the time.

The Temptations took the stage first with “Get Ready” and “I Can’t Help Myself.” Singer Smokey Robinson then came in with “The Tracks of My Tears” and joined The Temptations for “My Girl.”

From left, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Queen Latifah and Boyz II Men perform during the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXII on Jan. 25, 1998.

They were later joined by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Queen Latifah and Boyz II Men.

To close out the show, all artists joined the Grambling State University marching band, of Louisiana, and sang “Dancing in the Street.”

Watch the performance here.

Super Bowl XXXVIII: Janet Jackson, P. Diddy and Nelly

In 2004, R&B singer Janet Jackson headlined the 38th Super Bowl halftime show in Houston.

Jackson opened the show with “All for You” featuring backup dancers. Rappers P. Diddy and Nelly then performed on a separate stage, and Jackson took the main stage again to perform “Rhythm Nation” and “Move Your Body” with Justin Timberlake.

Janet Jackson performs during the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXVIII on Feb. 1, 2004.

Immense controversy erupted after the end of the performance when Timberlake exposed Jackson’s breast. A representative for Jackson told E! that Timberlake “was supposed to pull away the rubber bustier to reveal a red lace bra. The garment collapsed and her breast was accidentally revealed.”

The incident changed the landscape of live television. Now, most live broadcasts are delayed by a few seconds to accommodate possible editing of inappropriate video and audio.

Watch the performance here.

Super Bowl XLI: Prince

For the first time during a halftime show, there was inclement weather. A heavy downpour took place during funk musician Prince’s performance. But when the director of the halftime show asked Prince if he was fine to perform in the rain, the artist said, “Can you make it rain harder?”

The show was 12 minutes long and Prince performed on a large stage shaped as his signature “love symbol.”

Prince is pictured performing during the halftime show at Super Bowl XLI on Feb. 4, 2007, at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

As the final song of the show, Prince performed “Purple Rain” with the Florida A&M University Marching 100 Band accompanying him.

Watch the performance here.

Super Bowl XLV: Black Eyed Peas and Usher

The 2011 halftime show is considered to be one of the worst performances in Super Bowl history, mainly due to technical difficulties and lackluster performances.

Clad in futuristic outfits, the four members of the Black Eyed Peas descended via cables onto the stage. They started the show with “I Gotta Feeling” and “Boom Boom Pow.” The latter transitioned into Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine.”

The Black Eyed Peas in 2011 at the Super Bowl halftime show.

R&B singer Usher later descended onto the stage, in a similar fashion, and performed “OMG” with

Watch the performance here.

Super Bowl XLVII: Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child

Grammy-Award winning artist Beyoncé headlined the Super Bowl halftime show in New Orleans on Feb. 3, 2013.

The show garnered more than 110 million viewers.

Beyoncé performs during the Super Bowl halftime show on Feb. 3, 2013.

The show started with Beyoncé singing the chorus of “Love on Top,” which led into a performance of “Crazy in Love.” She followed with “End of Time” and “Baby Boy.”

Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, former members of Destiny’s Child, joined Beyoncé onstage and performed “Bootylicious,” “Independent Women Part I” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” Beyoncé then closed the halftime show with “Halo.”

Watch the performance here.

Super Bowl LV: The Weeknd

R&B artist The Weeknd made history as the first Canadian to headline a halftime show at a Super Bowl in 2021.

The performance was also the first since the COVID-19 pandemic. In part because of COVID restrictions, critics said the show lacked the spectacle of typical halftime shows and labeled it as “limited and inadequate.” They said the highlight of the show came when he and his dancers performed “Blinding Lights” on the stadium field in a flash mob style.

The Weeknd performs the halftime show at Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

Watch the performance here.

Super Bowl LVI: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent and Anderson .Paak

The 2022 Super Bowl halftime show marked the first time a halftime show was centered entirely around hip-hop music.

The performance also made history as the first Super Bowl halftime show to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety Special (Live). It also won two other Emmy Awards for Outstanding Production Design for a Variety Special and Outstanding Music Direction.

From left, Dr. Dre performs with Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent during the halftime show at the NFL Super Bowl LVI game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif.

The setlist largely drew from the artists’ popular songs of the 1990s and early 2000s, along with songs from Kendrick Lamar’s more recent albums.

Watch the performance here.


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John Oliva covers entertainment and community news in South Texas. Contact him at or Twitter @johnpoliva.

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