Taking centre stage: Judith Hill on her new album and remembering her bond with Prince
The singer-songwriter reflects on working with Prince and Michael Jackson as she prepares to perform in London
Judith Hill is no stranger to stadium tours. The California-born singer-songwriter cut her cloth as a backing singer for Grammy-winning stars – and musical legends – including the late singers Prince and Michael Jackson, as well as providing vocals for the likes of Stevie Wonder, John Legend and Sir Elton John on their tours and records. But to launch her latest album in the UK, Hill is taking to two of London's most popular cabaret-style venues.
Taking to the stage for two exclusive, intimate performances – at Quaglino's Mayfair on 15 January and 100 Wardour St on 16 January – Hill plans to take guests on a musical journey through R&B, pop, jazz and gospel, singing well-loved classics as well as songs from her new album, Golden Child.
"It will be a fun soul-extravaganza, filled with infectious grooves. I’m bringing some incredible musicians along with me – including my parents," Hill tells Tempus. Her mother is a keyboard player while her father is a bassist, and both feature in Hill's live band. "I’m very excited to perform in London in support of the new album. It’s a very exciting place especially because the music scene is so rich. Londoners have such an appreciation for soul music and an openness to new sounds and innovation."
While she has enjoyed much success as a session performer, Hill's leap to become a solo artist was charted in Oscar and Grammy-winning documentary film 20 Feet from Stardom (2013). She says: "Being centre stage is driving the ship. It’s an exhilarating experience to lead people into an energy that takes you to the mountain top. And I’ve had the privilege of singing behind the ultimate masters of higher energy. Some of my favourite moments include Christmas in Rio de Janeiro with Stevie Wonder and, of course, so many life-changing moments on stage with Prince – including the ultimate jam with Prince and Stevie at the White House."
Among those great masters Hill credits the late artist Prince, who died in 2016. Hill shared an intense bond with the singer, who invited her to record at his famous Paisley Park after reading about her admiration of him in an interview. It was there in 2015 that she recorded her debut solo album, Back in Time, which Prince played and sang on as well as produced. >>
"He saw an interview of mine where they asked me who would be a dream collaborator. I said Prince, not ever thinking he would see it. I was excited to discover that he wanted to reach out," she says of their meeting. "Back in Time was a blast. [Prince and I] had so much fun recording funk grooves at Paisley Park.
"It is a nostalgic record because it brought me back to the times where I would jam out with my family in the basement," she says. "I wanted to celebrate my roots and create a very organic, soul stirring experience."
Hill maintained a close relationship with Prince during the last years of his life, and after his death shared that she had been with him during his collapse on a flight from Atlanta to Minneapolis a week before his death. But, rather than think of those last days, Hill chooses to remember how he inspired her: "His dedication to the stage both on and off stage," she remembers. "His was a life commitment of full devotion at every waking moment. Truly inspiring."
While Back in Time took a look at her musical roots, Hill describes Golden Child as her "hope for the future." "Golden Child is a very personal album. I wrote, produced and mixed it – a true labour of love," she says. "It is a coming of age album that celebrates love and mourns loss. It took me two years to write it because so many life-altering experiences happened." >>
"It's a continuation of my first record; chapter two in the funk/soul experience. The songs are very autobiographical – some of my favourites to play are 'Chasing Rainbows', 'I Can Only Love You By Fire' and 'You Can't Blame Me'."
Hill's work is often inspired by her life. She is well known for her single 'I'll be Missing You', a tribute to Michael Jackson, with whom she was picked to duet with during his planned This Is It tour – which was cancelled due to his death in 2009.
"Working on This Is It was an amazing experience. I got to be part of a spectacular production. Michael was so kind and gracious to all of us and it was an honour working with him," she says. "Every chance I get to collaborate with great musicians and singers, I consider it an honour."
Hill's upcoming projects include a UK tour for Golden Child, and she is also working on transforming the album into a stage play. "There are so many projects I am eager to work on. I’m constantly traveling around the world, so I get a chance to experiment with other forms of music and experience other cultures. As a soul singer, I love infusing my style with other forms of music whether it be classical, jazz, or world music. I look forward to doing more like this."