Sunday, May 19, 2024

Meet Justina Miles, Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime show ASL performer

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As millions tune in to watch the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Kansas City Chiefs at the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, this Sunday, Justina Miles will be making history.

Miles, 20, is a deaf American Sign Language performer and will be signing the pre-show’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” to be sung by Emmy-award-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, as well as the highly anticipated Apple Music Super Bowl Halftime Show helmed by mega-star Rihanna.

Miles wrote in an email to CNBC Make It that it’s an “honor” to make history as the first deaf person to perform the ASL rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black national anthem, at the Super Bowl.

At a press conference Thursday, Miles called the song inspiring, empowering and representative of resilience.

It’s an important moment “not only for me to share this experience with the whole world,” she said, “but to really bring that empowerment to millions and millions of Black deaf people all over the country who’ve never really seen that before. I feel that is truly lifting every voice, even my voice.”

She will also be the first female deaf performer for the Super Bowl’s halftime show. “I value the opportunity to make it possible for all deaf people to enjoy these songs, and not have them miss out on the full Super Bowl experience,” Miles tells Make It.

You may have seen Miles before: She went viral in 2020 after her version of the TikTok #crushonyouchallenge was shared widely across social media. In the video, Miles signs a verse and pays homage to rapper Lil’ Kim’s colorful 1997 “Crush on You” music video.

Miles, a Philadelphia native and current nursing student at HBCU Bowie State University, is hard of hearing, according to reporting from Billy Penn. Her mom is deaf, and her family is mixed with hearing people.

Miles was also part of the USA team that went to the 2021-22 Deaflympics in Brazil and won a silver medal as part of the 4×100 women’s track relay team. She was the valedictorian at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington D.C., according to the National Association of the Deaf.

The 2023 Super Bowl pre-game show will feature other deaf performers, including Oscar winner and Arizona native Troy Kotsur, who will provide the ASL performance of the national anthem, and Colin Denny, from Navajo Nation in Arizona, who will perform “America the Beautiful” through a blend of ASL and North American Indian Sign Language.

More than 120 million viewers watched the Super Bowl halftime show in 2022, which featured Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar. It was the first Super Bowl halftime show to feature ASL performers, including rappers Sean Forbes and Warren “WaWa” Snipe.

Rihanna confirmed at a press conference Thursday that this year’s performance will be a 13-minute catalogue of her discography.

Miles hopes her performance will inspire others to “not to let any obstacles prevent you from achieving your dreams, and to always believe in yourself to go beyond,” she tells CNBC Make It.

She adds that her mom gave her the best advice heading out onto the main stage, “who told me that she already loves me, and that if I am my Philly Black Deaf self, everything would be amazing.”

Super Bowl pre-game coverages starts Sunday at 1 p.m. EST on Fox, and kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. EST. ASL performances of the pre-game show and halftime show will be streamed live on YouTube.

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