Knowles was born in Houston, Texas, the daughter of Mathew Knowles, a professional record manager, and Tina Knowles (née Beyincé), a costume designer and hair stylist. Knowles' father is African American and her mother is Louisiana Creole of African, French, and Native American descent. Knowles was baptized after her mother's maiden name, as a tribute to her mother. She is the elder sister of Solange, a singer-songwriter and actress.
Knowles was schooled at St. Mary's Elementary School in Texas, where she enrolled in dance classes, including ballet and jazz. Her talent in singing was discovered when her dance instructor began humming a song and she finished it, hitting the high-pitched notes. Knowles' interest in music and performing began after participating in a school talent show. She sang John Lennon's "Imagine" and won the competition. At age seven, Knowles started gaining attention from the press, having been mentioned in the Houston Chronicle as a nominee for the local performing arts award The Sammy. In the fall of 1990, Knowles enrolled in Parker Elementary School, a music magnet school in Houston, where she would perform on-stage with the school's choir. She also attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston and later went to Alief Elsik High School, located in the Houston suburban munincipality, Alief. Knowles was a member of the choir at St. John's United Methodist Church for two years, performing as a soloist.
At the age of eight, Knowles met LaTavia Roberson while in an audition for an all-girl entertainment group. They, along with Knowles' friend Kelly Rowland, were placed into a group that performed rapping and dancing. Originally named Girl's Tyme, they were eventually cut down to six members. West coast R&B producer Arne Frager flew into Houston to see them. He eventually brought them to his studio, The Plant Recording Studios, in Northern California, with Knowles' vocals being featured. As part of efforts to sign Girl's Tyme to a major label record deal, Frager's strategy was to début them in Star Search, the biggest talent show on national TV at the time. Girl's Tyme participated in the competition but lost it because the song they performed was not good, Knowles herself admitted. Knowles had her first "professional setback" after that defeat but regained confidence after learning that pop stars Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake had also the same experience. To manage the group, Knowles' father (who was at that time a medical-equipment salesman) resigned in 1995 from his job. He dedicated his time and established a "boot camp" for their training. The move reduced Knowles' family's income by half and her parents were forced to move into separated apartments. Not long after the inclusion of Rowland, Mathew cut the original lineup to four, with LeToya Luckett joining in 1993. Rehearsing in Tina's Headliners Salon and their backyards, the group continued performing as an opening act for other established R&B girl groups of the time;
Tina contributed to the cause by designing their costumes, which she continued to do throughout the Destiny's Child era. With the continued support of Mathew, they auditioned before record labels and were finally signed to Elektra Records. They moved to Atlanta to work on their first recording, only to be cut by the record company in 1995. They returned home to start over again. This eventually put a strain on the family, and Beyoncé's parents separated briefly when she was 14. In 1996, the family reunited, and shortly after, the girls got a contract with Columbia Records.