Barbadian pop sensation Rihanna on Tuesday became one of the first global personalities to back the protesting farmers in India, and was followed by climate activist Greta Thunberg, actor John Cusack, US Vice president Kamala Harris’s niece Meena Harris, and Lebanese-American model Mia Khalifa, among others. The 32-year-old singer-actor’s tweet to her 101 million-plus followers, “Why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest” quoted a CNN report headlined ‘India cuts internet around New Delhi as protesting farmers clash with police’. The Ministry of External Affairs issued an unusual reaction to the criticism by “celebrities and others”, calling them “neither accurate nor responsible”.
Rihanna, the singer-businesswoman with a net worth of more than $600 million, is well known for her association with humanitarian, philanthropic, and cultural causes. She has supported several charities, including Alzheimer’s Association, Entertainment Industry Foundation, Designers Against AIDS, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Stand Up to Cancer, the Black Eyed Peas Foundation, and UNICEF. She gave a $100,000 food bank donation for Hurricane Sandy relief, and $5 million for coronavirus relief last year.
Just before the pandemic hit, Rihanna was honoured for the philanthropic efforts of her organisation Clara and Lionel Foundation — named after her grandparents — which funds education for young students in 60 countries. At the 2020 NAACP Image Awards, where she received the President’s Award, she said, “Imagine what we could do together. We can only fix this world together. We cannot do it divided. We cannot let the desensitivity seep in. [It cannot be that] if it’s your problem, it’s not mine.”
In 2017, she received Harvard University’s Humanitarian of the Year Award, which has been bestowed, among others, on Nobel Peace Laureates Malala Yousufzai, Kailash Satyarthi, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Aung San Suu Kyi. Rihanna was honoured for her charity work in Bridgetown, Barbados, where she built a centre for oncology and nuclear medicine for breast cancer patients. Earlier in 2010, she supported the Hope for Haiti Now campaign by recording songs about the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in Bridgetown, Barbados, Rihanna had a difficult childhood with a father with several addictions and a mother who worked hard to support the family. At one point, the young Rihanna sold hats and belts along with her father to make a living. “[Watching on TV appeals for donations for suffering children] I wondered how many 25 cents I could save up to save all the kids in Africa. I would say, when I grow up and be rich, I will save all these kids. I just didn’t know, I’d be able to do that by the time I was a teenager,” she said in her 2017 speech. Rihanna began her career at 17, and by the time she was 18, she had started her first charity.
Before that, at 14, she had created Contrast, a girl band, with her friends. The group auditioned for music producer Evan Richards, who was impressed. A meeting with rapper Jay Z followed, who signed her swiftly. Her first album was Music of the Sun (2005), a Caribbean dance-pop album that sold over 2 million copies with the song Pon de Replay becoming an immediate global hit.
But what catapulted Rihanna to fame was the lead single Umbrella in her third album Good Girl Gone Bad (2007), which also won her first Grammy. In 2012, she collaborated with Coldplay for the famed number Princess of China, and with Kanye West for All of the Lights. At 31, she became the first black woman to run a luxury fashion label (Fenty). In 2020, after she moved to the UK, she became the wealthiest female musician in that country.