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

Justina Miles performs "Lift Every Voice and Sing" in American Sign Language prior to Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium on February 12, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona.
Rob Carr | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

Justina Miles made history Sunday night as millions tuned in to watch the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Kansas City Chiefs at the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.

Miles, 20, is a deaf American Sign Language performer and signed the pre-show's "Lift Every Voice and Sing," 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.

The moment made Miles the first female deaf performer for the Super Bowl's halftime show. In an email to CNBC Make It, Miles described the history-making opportunity as "a great honor."

During the halftime show, Miles delivered a high-energy performance running through 13 minutes of Rihanna's biggest career hits, including "B---- Better Have My Money," "Work," "Umbrella," Diamonds" and others.

Miles also made 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."

"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 4x100 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 featured other deaf performers, including Oscar winner and Arizona native Troy Kotsur, who provided the ASL performance of the national anthem, and Colin Denny, from Navajo Nation in Arizona, who performed "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.

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."

ASL performances of the pre-game show and halftime show were streamed live on YouTube.

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Harvard Law's first deafblind graduate disrupting disability rights
Harvard Law's first deafblind graduate disrupting disability rights