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February 14, 2023

Meet the Philly native who made history with ASL performance in Super Bowl

Justina Miles' rendition of Rihanna's hits made her the first female deaf performer in the halftime show

While Super Bowl LVII saw incredible performances by both teams on the field, one breakout star of the evening emerged from the halftime show.

Performing a dazzling American Sign Language (ASL) rendition of Rihanna's medley of hits, 20-year-old Philadelphia native Justina Miles made history as the first female deaf performer in the Super Bowl halftime show and captured viewers' hearts with her energetic versions of the songs.

Rihanna's Apple Music Super Bowl Halftime Show performance was exciting in itself, with a lineup of her biggest hits as well as the reveal of her second pregnancy. But Miles' passionate interpretation brought it to the next level, inciting admiration across social media. 

A TikTok of Miles signing during Rihanna's opening number posted by user @sainthoax has already received over 20 million views and 4 million likes.

The 18,000 comments on the video include compliments like "sis was Rihanna in her other life," "Ate and left no crumbs," "She was the real halftime show" and "sis should've performed on stage." 

@sainthoax #superbowl #rihanna ♬ original sound - Saint Hoax

Miles was not on stage with Rihanna and was not part of the live TV broadcast on FOX, but videos of her performance quickly made their rounds online. Social media users shared side-by-side videos of Rihanna and Miles, noting the history-making nature of the performance as well as the electricity Miles brought to every movement.

Miles was one of three ASL performers representing the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) during the big game. Oscar-winning deaf actor Troy Kotsur performed the national anthem and Colin Denny, a deaf Native American research assistant at University of Arizona, signed "America the Beautiful." 

Along with the halftime show, Miles also offered an ASL interpretation of "Abbott Elementary" star Sheryl Lee Ralph's pre-game performance of "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Miles made history with the first ASL performance of the song, often referred to as the Black national anthem, at the Super Bowl.

"That song represents resilience for me," Miles said through an ASL interpreter during a halftime show press conference. "The national anthem never really resonated with me personally, and the Black national anthem is really inspiring and empowering ... It's not only for me to share this experience with the whole world, 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."

Born and raised in Philly, Miles now lives in Maryland where she studies nursing and is a cheerleader at Bowie State University. Before that, she was valedictorian at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington, D.C.

She has performed ASL renditions of music at various concerts throughout the country, according to NAD, and also earned the silver medal as part of the USA 4x100 women’s track relay team that went to the 2021-2022 Deaflympics in Brazil. 

Miles is not fully deaf. She is considered hard of hearing, although her hearing has been worsening over time. Miles' mother is deaf, but her family also includes hearing people.

This isn't Miles' first brush with social media fame. About three years ago, she went viral for her contribution to a TikTok challenge. In her video, Miles performs an ASL interpretation of a Lil' Kim song while paying homage to the rapper's colorful 1997 “Crush on You” music video. 

At one point in the video, which has been viewed over 1 million times on Twitter and gained the attention of Lil' Kim herself, she wears a pink Eagles jersey.

“Also, I am a Black woman. Yessir, I’m from Philly,” she told Billy Penn in 2020. “Other Black women, I want them to see that they can do anything, for real.”

A full side-by-side performance of Miles' and Rihanna's Super Bowl LVII halftime performance can be found below:

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