Having literally spent her life immersed in music, Judith Hill has long been on a path towards capturing the depth and breadth of her artistic vision. Her remarkable journey has taken the gifted singer/songwriter/musician to stages all over the planet, both as a solo performer as well as alongside such icons as the late, great Michael Jackson.
Now Hill is poised to take her own welldeserved place in the spotlight. A richly emotive vocal stylist and virtuosic piano player, Hill has spent pretty much her whole life to arrive at this plateau.
"I'm an organic soul artist with a passion to bring the world together," Hill says. "The music, whether it's funk or a ballad, it's all about that message. That's the thing that resonates most for me, that message and the heart behind it."
Musically minded from the start, Hill penned her first song at just four years old. No surprise really, considering that the Los Angelesnative grew up in such an intensely musical household - her father, Robert "Pee Wee" Hill is a pioneering funk bassist known for his work with such artists as Sly Stone, Jimmy Smith, and Bob Dylan, while her mom, Michiko Hill, is an accomplished keyboardist in her own right, with credits including Rufus w/Chaka Khan, Wayne Shorter, and Billy Preston. In addition to their steady session work, the Hills also own and operate Master's Crib Recording Studio, which served as a genuinely motivating playground for Judith.
"It was very inspiring," she says. "I was constantly surrounded by great musicians. Of course, it is only as I got older that I realized what a lucky girl I was." Hill fell in love with the sounds of funk, jazz, and soul, with a special fondness for gospel, especially from a vocal standpoint - Aretha Franklin, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, The Winans. She rebelled against her mother's piano lessons in her tween years but soon came back around.
"I felt like everyone around me did it and I wanted to do something different," Hill says. "It wasn't until I was a little bit older that I really found the passion for music inside of me. I couldn't help but do it."
With that in mind, Hill pursued a degree in music composition at Biola University, where she wrote her first symphony as well as pieces for piano, vocal groups, chamber ensembles and string quartets.
"Getting inside of the music became the biggest passion I'd ever had," Hill says. "I realized there was so much to learn, from the early baroque period to romantic classical to contemporary classical and jazz. I became so excited about it, I knew I didn't want to do anything else with my life."
After graduation, Hill spent a year in Paris, singing background vocals for legendary French singer/songwriter Michel Polnareff. Though a "great experience," she quickly discovered that her true desire was focus on her own artistry. Hill returned home and began writing and recording songs, sharpening her performance chops at open mic nights. But fate threw her a curveball when a musician friend told her that Michael Jackson was looking for background singers and asked if he could submit her name for the gig. Hill agreed, of course, and to her surprise, found herself with the job.
"It came out of nowhere," Hill says. "I was like, well, that's a change of plans. But, a
good change of plans." Hill put her own music on hold and began rehearsing with Jackson for the planned "This Is It" world tour. In addition to her role as background vocalist, she was chosen to duet with Michael on the classic Bad ballad, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," later to become the undisputed highlight of the posthumously released film, This Is It. Working closely
with one of popular music's greatest talents proved both an inspiration and an education.
"He was amazing," Hill says. "Very polite, very shy, but so iconic in everything he did. Everything you'd imagine him to be like. He was a perfectionist, he knew exactly what he wanted. I learned so much just observing him rehearse us, giving notes to the lighting person or the director. It was so incredible to see this iconic King of Pop putting a show together."
On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson passed away, leaving Hill and the "This Is It" troupe in a heartbroken state of shock. As the world mourned, Hill was asked to sing at Jackson's public memorial. Watched by one billion fans around the world, the service's emotional crescendo came from Hill's powerfully poignant performance of "Heal The World," a moment she declares "a milestone in my life. Just being there was overwhelming, but I felt that I had a responsibility to rise above myself and be an inspiring person, to represent Michael in the best way possible."
Media and industry players soon besieged Hill, all pushing her to release something right there and then. Though advised to ride the momentum, she opted to spend the next fewyears refining her sound through experimentation and collaborations.
Hill strove to perfect every aspect of her artistic persona, incorporating her lifelong zeal for fashion and theatre into her live act while simultaneously pushing her music forward by blending her extensive array of influences into her own unique sound.
"I'm really passionate about bringing cultures together," Hill says. "I love music from Asian and Arabic and African cultures and it's exciting to also play with those things visually. Being biracial, those things represent me as well as the world."
Hill's desire to create "a more international experience rather than just American pop music" led to her spending much of 2011 traveling the world in partnership with Avon Cosmetics, serving as spokesperson and star of their worldwide Avon Believe World Tour. The trek took Hill to such faraway places as Istanbul, Shanghai, New Delhi, Warsaw, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Johannesburg. Further travels brought her to Southeast Asia and South America, where she performed as background singer with Stevie Wonder. While she had not planned to continue her background work, the offer to work with Wonder proved irresistible.
"I said to myself I wouldn't do background after Michael," Hill says, "but when Stevie asked me I just said, 'Yes, of course.' It's been a great experience. He's such an inspiration, just like Michael. I'm so blessed to get to work with these people."
Judith's musical journey has since brought her to doing music for Spike Lee's film Red Hook Summer, the stage of The Voice and to the lens of film director Morgan Neville in the upcoming film 20 Feet From Stardom, which tells the true story of the backup singers b ehind some of the greatest musicians of the 21st century. Judith is now on the
next leg of her great adventure....she's recording her debut solo release due out later this year - and who knows where it will take herand us. Bigger, Better, Stronger, Power!!