Shani Crowe: Creative Behind Solange’s SNL Crown
It was the Saturday Night Live performance that many of us had been anticipating.
It was a moment and Solange Knowles was the centerpiece. But, not only did her vocals captivate audiences, her crown was majestic and instantly had the Interwebs talking.
And though ears were adorned by the sounds of A Seat At The Table favorites, “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “Cranes In The Sky”, minds wondered who had that level of skill and talent to create such a beautifully, intricate hair design.
The answer: Chicago’s own, Shani Crowe.
There she was, checking out of her Washington D.C., Airbnb digs and wielding two suitcases into an Uber, when she was summoned by Knowles to help her slay the SNL performance stage by giving her a glorious crown of cornrows for her “Cranes in the Sky” performance.
Sometimes, our resumes make room for us, other times, though, it’s our gifts that take us places. For Crowe, the latter would be true.
JET caught up with Crowe (aka the Black Girl behind ALL of this hair magic) to learn about her life, talent for braiding and how this amazing coiffed collaboration came to be.
JET: You started braiding your hair when you were a kid, then you started braiding your friends’ hair as a side hustle in high school, like a lot of black girls do. But you went to college, got a degree and kept coming back to braiding hair. Why? What’s the draw?
Shani Crowe: Braiding is a skill I’ve always been good at, and have always had a client base for. As an artist, having a steady stream of income allowed me to invest time in my work, and create my own schedule. I tried to get a “regular job” unsuccessfully, several times. For a while, I felt inadequate or even ashamed, but then I noticed nearly all of my friends hated their jobs. A few of them even begged me never to get one. I made the decision to invest in my own dreams, and since the universe has corroborated these facts: I have everything I need. Working for anyone else’s dream would be a complete waste of my time and talent.
JET: So give us the good tea! Where were you and what were you doing when you received word that thee Solange Knowles wanted you to braid her hair? How did she reach out, was it something modern like email or something beautifully bohemian like signing messenger?!
Shani Crowe: I was in Washington DC for my five-year homecoming at Howard University. I had actually just given up on the line at Jam Doung Jamaican eatery when I got an email asking if I was available to create some hair pieces for Solange’s SNL debut. A couple of days later, I was on a conference call with Solange and the legendary Chuck Amos.
JET: Did you initially think this was all one big hoax or a prank? When did you realize it was real?
Shani Crowe: I didn’t realize it was real until the day before they flew me out to New York. The inquiry was real because I spoke with [Solange] on the phone, but I received no more contact, so I wasn’t sure if they wanted to proceed with the concept. Luckily, I had started making the halo on faith, just in case.
JET: Describe the style you gave Solange that evening? What was its inspiration and how long did it take you to complete?
Shani Crowe: Solange asked me to fabricate a Halo similar to the original I created for my work “FINGERWAVE SAINT”, but with the added sparkle of Swarovski crystal beads. The piece has over 100 ft of braided hair and over 2,500 crystal beads and took about 50 hours over the course of four days.
JET: Now, “FINGERWAVE SAINT” is a style you did originally for your art project “BRAIDS.” Tell our readers a little about that project.
Shani Crowe: BRAIDS is a series of portraits celebrating the profound beauty and nuanced artistry of braiding hair. I took the photographs and did all the braiding.
JET: You posted a picture of Beyoncé standing next to one of the photos in the “BRAIDS” exhibit on your Instagram page. She said she was inspired by your work, too. Sisters don’t always have the same taste in everything, so how did you feel when you learned that both Knowles sisters agreed your work was inspirational? Did you faint?!
Shani Crowe: Being contacted to create a piece for Solange was wild enough, then Beyoncé congratulated me and showed me photos of herself in front of my work at the SNL after party, which was totally surreal. I didn’t faint; I was grinning like a fool though, and had to take several deep breaths after.
JET: How did they learn of your work?
Shani Crowe: Solange saw my work on the Internet. I can’t speak for Beyoncé, but I know she saw it in MoCADA’s (the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, in Brooklyn, NY) window gallery and felt compelled to take a photo with it.
JET: How can we, regular folks, view the images in BRAIDS or keep up with your work or book you for an appointment?
Shani Crowe: I’m currently not accepting new clients but I am @crowezilla on Instagram. My website (where portraits from BRAIDS are featured) is shanicrowe.com.
JET: Since you’re not taking on clients, what’s next for you? Are you still basking in the glow of this moment?
Shani Crowe: I plan to resume shooting conceptual braid looks and release a BRAIDS book within the next three years.