American Sign Language performer makes history, draws praise during Rihanna’s Super Bowl performance

A full-body view of a young woman in long black dress gesturing with her arms while performing on a football field
Justina Miles performs “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in American Sign Language at the 2023 Super Bowl in Arizona.
(Rob Carr / Getty Images)

American Sign Language performer Justina Miles shined bright like a diamond during Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday.

Miles, a nursing student and cheerleader at Bowie State University, made history at Arizona’s State Farm Stadium as the first Deaf Black woman to perform at the Super Bowl, according to the NFL on CBS. In addition to delivering an acclaimed ASL rendition of Rihanna’s halftime set, Miles also performed the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” sung by “Abbott Elementary” star Sheryl Lee Ralph before kickoff.

“That song represents resilience for me, and the national anthem never really resonated with me personally,” Miles said during a press conference previewing the Super Bowl. “The Black national anthem is really inspiring and empowering. ... This song is so positive. It’s so beautiful, and you don’t really hear or see it very often — or even hear about it. And there’s many folks who don’t even know that the Black national anthem exists.


“So 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. ... They should feel inspired ... That is truly lifting every voice — even my voice.”

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Miles wasn’t the only ASL performer who participated in the Super Bowl on behalf of the National Assn. of the Deaf. Colin Denny, a member of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, performed “America the Beautiful” through a blend of ASL and North American Indian Sign Language alongside singer Babyface; and Oscar-winning “CODA” star Troy Kotsur performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” in ASL alongside singer Chris Stapleton.

After performing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” alongside Ralph on the field, Miles returned for the halftime program. Though she couldn’t be seen onstage or onscreen during the halftime-show broadcast, Miles’ ASL rendition of Rihanna’s dynamic medley was livestreamed on YouTube.

The YouTube video of Miles’ entire halftime performance is no longer accessible — however, clips of her performing Rihanna hits such as “B— Better Have My Money,” “Pour It Up,” “Rude Boy” and “Work” in ASL during the show have gone viral and received heaps of praise on social media.

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“Loving the spark and energy of Justina Miles, the ASL performer for the #SuperBowl,” tweeted @jfuentes. “Just fantastic!”

“Justina Miles DID THAT not just because she ate and left NO crumbs for Rihanna’s performance, but she’s also the first ever Black deaf woman to perform the ASL rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Black Lives Matter tweeted.


“Let’s be honest, the super bowl half time star was Justina Miles,” tweeted @ELIANATARDIO.

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Though Sunday marked her first time performing at the Super Bowl halftime show, Miles is no stranger to the music or sports industry. She has also performed in ASL during concerts across the country and won a silver medal as part of the United States track relay team at the 2021-2022 Deaflympics in Brazil.

Among the many cheering for Miles on Sunday were “CODA” star Marlee Matlin and “Eternals” actor Lauren Ridloff, who have both made major strides for Deaf representation in entertainment.

“Wow, I got chills watching three of our Deaf performers today at the Super Bowl,” Matlin said in a video posted on Twitter. “They showed the world the beauty of Sign Language. I applaud them all: Justina, Colin and Troy. They’re our superstars. Let them shine. Give them your support — their brilliant work — as they showed the world that we can perform in Sign.”

“SLAYYYYY,” Ridloff captioned an Instagram video of Miles performing “B— Better Have My Money.”

Though Miles clearly won the Super Bowl with her powerful ASL performances, her team did not. Born in Philadelphia, Miles was rooting for the Eagles on Sunday and congratulated the players on a “great game” and a “great season” after they were defeated by the Kansas City Chiefs.


“didn’t even feel like a loss at the game !” she wrote on her Instagram story. “we kno who the best team inna world is still ... flyyyyyy eagles flyyyyy.”