'I consider myself a soul artist. Everything I do comes from a place of raw emotion and visceral energy. It is timeless as long as human beings are on this planet.'
Judith Hill x Evan Dale // April 19, 2020
There are only rare names in music that have worked with and learned from so many of history's greatest artists. But Judith Glory Hill - a career soulstress who has leant her voice to everything from world tours with John Legend to animated blockbusters to her own Prince-produced album, Golden Child - is the definition of a rare and timeless musician.
RNGLDR: If you had to describe yourself – describe your sound – what would you call it? Why?
Judith Hill: Soul music.
RNGLDR: For the most part, irresponsible journalism is to blame for any artist’s stylistic typecasting. But, if you felt you belonged most strongly or were most closely associated with an era, a movement, or a genre, where do you place yourself?
Judith Hill: I consider myself a soul artist. Everything I do comes from a place of raw emotion and visceral energy. It is timeless as long as human beings are on this planet.
RNGLDR: One key way to organize a milieu is to talk about influences. For you, who are the artists through time that have shaped your sound the most?
Judith Hill: Aretha Franklin, Prince, Lauryn Hill, Sly and the family Stone.
RNGLDR: And who are some unexpected artists people may not guess have been a key factor in the development of your auditory aesthetic?
Judith Hill: Carlos Jobim, Maurice Ravel, Johann Sebastian Bach, Joni Mitchell, Missy Elliott.
RNGLDR: Since we’re on the subject of influence and inspiration, it would be irresponsible not to bring to light some of the great artists of music history that you’ve been associated with. Simply concerning your music and the development of your sound to this point, what have these artists meant to you? What have they provided your artistic growth?
Carole King: Carole is master. I have been greatly influenced by her songwriting and style of melody. I had the honor of crossing paths with her a couple times and I was always so inspired by her presence.
John Legend: Love John Legend. I had a great time opening for him during his UK tour a few years back. He’s a very gracious human being and a soulful singer.
Stevie Wonder: My time on tour with Stevie was one of my highlights and treasures. I think I connect so deeply with his energy and emotion. We are both Taurus. Every night on stage was magical, especially when he would play the piano and sing.
Michael Jackson: Michael taught me to dream big and make it come true. He was truly tapped into another reality that was so powerful and infectious. I was so moved by his spirit and ability to bring hope on earth.
Prince: There will never be another like him. He plucked me out of the industry and brought me to a place of excitement and grounded energy that is fueled by nothing other than your inner power and personal conviction to make the world shake with music.
RNGLDR: Probably the two most influential artists on your sonic texture – your parents – are certainly worth discussion in line with these other great artists. Let’s start with your mother who was a pianist from Tokyo: though difficult to shape into words we’re sure, what musically do you associate with her talent and your upbringing with her?
Judith Hill: She taught me piano and was a key person in teaching me arrangements and harmony. She also heavily influenced me in the world of classical music and rock and roll.
RNGLDR: On the other end of the spectrum, your father: a funk musician: what do you associate with his musical talent?
Judith Hill: I think I take after my dad when it comes to raw funky and aggressive energy. We have the same spirit so a lot of our influences are the same especially when it comes to soul, funk, and reggae.
RNGLDR: Though you’re a professional and have had an incredible career, contesting on The Voice must have been a nerve-wracking experience. Compared to international live performance, working with your idols, and releasing solo studio albums, how does contesting on national television compare in regard to intensity and nerves?
Judith Hill: TV is actually easier. Everything is controlled and they do a good job of making everybody look good. It’s more work doing it in real life. However, television does magnify everything good and bad. So, in that sense, it is intense because it’s a magnifying glass… but its fun.
RNGLDR: What was your biggest takeaway from The Voice? Do you think it was altogether a positive thing for your career, or are there setbacks involved as well?
Judith Hill: The Voice helped me understand how to relate to audience on a commercial macro level. I learned a lot about who I was to America and what parts of me resonated the most. I was grateful for the experience.
RNGLDR: It is honestly a bit overwhelming to comb through your entire resumé. You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in recent music history, you’ve contested for The Voice, you’ve released two studio albums, and you’ve soundtracked multiple films. As an artist, what is your greatest accomplishment to date?
Judith Hill: I’ve enjoyed touring the most. It is where I feel alive. But I am grateful for all of my experiences because they have brought so many really cool adventures and amazing relationships.
RNGLDR: And as such a young artist with such a vibrant and varied catalogue of different pursuits, what is the grandest accomplishment you hope to one day achieve?
Judith Hill: I hope to make my own movie—a fantasy film.
RNGLDR: In equal measure, the pressure of so much success so early on in your musical career must be a lot to deal with. Can you speak a little to that and what fears play a role in your life and career moving forward?
Judith Hill: I find that it is very important to stay excited and focused on the present moment. Looking back or ahead can cause anxiety, especially in a career with so much unknown and little guarantees. I just love what I do and continue to focus on what I feel is in my heart to do.
RNGLDR: What was it like working with Spike Lee and having your original music featured in his film, Red Hook Summer?
Judith Hill: Working with Spike Lee was a blast. He’s an incredible director and very easy to work with. I was honored to work on one of his films.
RNGLDR: Your music has also been featured in Happy Feet and The Lorax. What about your auditory aesthetic and ability do you think makes it so applicable to the silver screen – even across a varied collection of film genre?
Judith Hill: Sometimes it’s fun to transport yourself in another world, especially when it comes to animation and fantasy, which I’m a big fan of. I always enjoy myself when I work on those kinds of projects.
RNGLDR: 20 Feet From Stardom took your experience with movies and flipped it around completely. Suddenly your voice wasn’t soundtracking movies, but your face was front and center. For those that don’t know, what is the documentary about? And how did they approach you to follow you and your life for it?
Judith Hill: The documentary was about background singers and the incredible contributions they make to music history, even though many times they are in the shadows. 20 Feet From Stardom puts a face and name to the voice. They did a beautiful job of celebrating these voices. The director approached me after working on a project for Elton John. They followed my life for a couple years before they released the film.
RNGLDR: Let’s talk about Golden Child. First off, congratulations. It cannot be easy to develop an album that sounds in so many ways of eras come and gone while at the same time still being such a modern and progressive work of art. What was the road like from your 2015 debut, Back in Time to finally releasing Golden Child in 2018?
Judith Hill: It took me a couple years to release Golden Child because I was grieving the loss of Prince. But, I finally was able to release the music and I’m so glad I did. The album is the second chapter of my journey and a very powerful statement about finding hope and healing. Also, it celebrates my love for funk, soul and rock and roll.
RNGLDR: What do you think were the biggest takeaways as far as growth and artistic improvement are concerned from your debut studio album to your sophomore?
Judith Hill: Golden Child explored some softer tones and harmonies along with the hard edge funk. I find that in every record, I like to explore different shades and interpretations of my art.
RNGLDR: Having Prince on board as the executive producer of your debut album is a special notion difficult to even comprehend. Though he had passed by the time Golden Child was released, what was his posthumous influence on the work? And what is his lasting influence on you?
Judith Hill: He will always be a lasting influence on me. I learned so much during my time with him especially when it comes to arrangements and groove patterns. He remains in my heart forever.
RNGLDR: Earlier this year, you performed at Women Who Rock, a women’s history month celebration of women in music. As an independent female artist, which women throughout your history and music history have been your biggest inspirations?
Judith Hill: Definitely Aretha Franklin. I relate to her voice the most and love how she embodies soul music. Other powerful women include Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, Betty Davis, Whitney Houston, and Tina Turner.
RNGLDR: And if you had to choose, which specific albums from female artists have played the biggest role in their influence on Back in Time and Golden Child?
Judith Hill: Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Lauryn Hill), Sparkle (Aretha Franklin), & They Say I’m Different (Betty Davis)
RNGLDR: You’re an artist with an exceptional background in the art of performance. So, we run a narrative series called Dream Venue that takes the reader on a journey culminating in the perfect live event. If you got to live your Dream Venue as the artist performing, what would it be?
Judith Hill: I would love to perform in a warehouse or cave with modern lighting and incredible sound system. I love places that are adventurous and transport you to another world.
RNGLDR: We also run a series called Collab Elation that explores hypothetical collaborations that we want to see in the music industry. If you could work with anyone in music past or present, who would it be, and why?
Judith Hill: I would love to have collaborated with Jimi Hendrix because he is one of my heroes and I would just love to sing with him. Also Nina Simone because she is goddess and an incredible storyteller.
RNGLDR: What’s next for Judith Hill? Personally? Creatively?
Judith Hill: New record is on the way. Can’t wait to share with everyone and can’t wait to get back on the road once the quarantine is over.