She’s one of the biggest singers on earth, with hits like “Umbrella”, “SOS”, and “We Found Love”, and is now a businesswoman with the highly successful Fenty brand – but what did she do before she was so famous?
Rihanna was born and grew up in Saint Michael, Barbados. She is thought to have sold clothes on the streets, before becoming an army cadet for a sub-military program but decided on pursuing a career in the music industry instead of finishing high school. She was first signed in 2005, before releasing her debut album that same year.
Let’s take a deeper look into Rihanna’s early days.
A Tough Home Life in Barbados
On the 20th of February in 1988, Monica Braithwaite and Ronald Fenty welcomed Robyn Rihanna Fenty into the world. Robyn had two brothers, Rorrey and Rajad, plus a half-brother and two half-sisters from her father’s past relationships.
Rihanna was raised in Bridgetown, the largest city and capital of Barbados. The Fenty family lived in a three-bedroom small home.
In 2012, she took Oprah Winfrey to her childhood home in Barbados, where she said hello to plenty of people along the street whom she had known while growing up:
Throughout her childhood, Rihanna had a tough time. Her father was reportedly addicted to crack cocaine and was also an alcoholic.
In a 2009 interview, she opened up about the abuse her mother suffered at the hands of Ronald. She shared that she would try and get between them in order to break up a fight, even breaking a glass bottle so that “they would hear something else.”
She has also shared how highly she thinks of her mother, calling her “one of the strongest women I know, if not the strongest.”
In a Twitter post, she declared her love for her mom, stating:
“Happy Birthday to my sweet beautiful mother. Thanks for teaching me that strength, love, forgiveness, sacrifice, hard work & helping others in any way you can is what true beauty looks like. Love you & appreciate you! Thank You God for choosing this wonderful being to be my mom!”
School and Interest in Music
Despite showing interest in singing and the entertainment industry as a whole from a young age, Rihanna was not able to participate in singing her dancing lessons.
Aside from the tumultuous experiences at home, she does have some fond memories of growing up, including “learning to swim, learning how to ride my bike, and it’s funny, because most of these times were with my dad.”
At 8 or 9 years old, her parents split, and she lived with her mother, who was a makeup artist.
In Barbados, Rihanna attended Broome Memorial Primary School and Combermere High School, in addition to signing up as an army cadet. Funnily enough, fellow star-to-be Shontelle was Rihanna’s drill sergeant at the time.
“We were both in cadets together – it wasn’t compulsory or anything,” Shontelle shared in a 2009 interview, adding, “But picture me and Rihanna in combat boots and fatigues crawling through mud and things like that.”
While she could have graduated from high school, Rihanna instead wanted to go for a career in music. She was selling clothes on the streets of her hometown with her father but was determined to make a name for herself elsewhere.
She was heavily inspired by big names like Madonna, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Beyoncé. Much like Beyoncé’s beginnings in Destiny’s Child, Rihanna decided to form her own girl group and give that a shot.
The group managed to get an audition with Evan Rogers, an American record producer, who was a family friend and on holiday in Barbados.
To Rihanna’s luck, Rogers was instantly intrigued by her. He later revealed that “the minute Rihanna walked into the room, it was like the other two girls didn’t exist.”
Rihanna was just 15 at the time and started traveling back and forth from her home country to the United States to work on her first official demo.
A Rapid Rise in the Music Industry
Rihanna’s first demo was sent to Def Jam Records in 2005, where huge rap icon Jay-Z was the CEO. He invited the young singer to audition for him, and she left with a record deal spanning 6 albums.
Her debut album Music of the Sun was a hit, which was followed by A Girl Like Me in 2006, and arguably her first massive mainstream reach with Good Girl Gone Bad in 2007.