Singer Judith Hill loved Michael Jackson, got great advice from Prince

Photo credit: Smallz + Raskind
What do both Michael Jackson and Prince have in common? The answer is quite simple: Judith Hill. To date, Hill has been featured in the 2013 Oscar and Grammy Award winning documentary, ‘Twenty Feet from Stardom,’ Jackson’s cinematic final curtain performance ‘This Is It,’ as well as on NBC’s ‘The Voice.’ Her highly anticipated debut solo collection, Back In Time, produced with His Royal Badness himself at Paisley Park Studios in Minneapolis, has finally arrived.
When did you first become interested in music? 
At age 4 my mother sat me down at the piano and we wrote a song together. That was the beginning of the journey. Since then, I would jam in the studio with my parents and go to choir practices at church. It became a way of life.
You’re a native of Los Angeles, so growing up in the City of Angels, who were your strongest musical influences?
My stronger influences were jazz and gospel singers; like The Clark Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, and Táta Vega. I was also heavily influenced by family friends; including Rose Stone from Sly and the Family Stone and Billy Preston. Being born and raised in the City of Angel’ and music business, I found myself in many diverse circles of musicians. Latin jazz, classical, etcetera. I soaked it all up.
At what point in time, specifically, did you opt to pursue music on a professional level?
I spent four years studying music composition for orchestras and ensembles. I was the most happy in college because I was so hungry for knowledge and had rigorous training. I knew there was no turning back because I loved it so much. During this time, I also started recording EPs for my record and did a lot of session work.
That being said, how do you classify your overall sound and/or style?
 I’m a soul singer. My music is funky and raw. It’s very old school because I love the classic sound.
At some point, something magical occurred, and by “magic” I’m talking the man, the myth, the living legend himself, Prince, entered your life — how did this unique situation even come about?
I did an interview a couple years ago and the question was asked, “who would you love to collaborate with?” I said Prince. He saw the interview and reached out personally. I remember the phone call. I was sitting at home freaking out! That was the start of our relationship.
Having said that, what’s been the best piece(s) of advice that this musical icon has bestowed on you?
His best advice to me was to “be in the moment” when performing on stage. He compared the stage to a game of tennis. A good play in sports propels you to the next moment. Never let any distractions take you out of the game…whether it be bad sound, nerves, a mistake, etcetera. Always stay present and prepare interesting highlights in your performance to captivate the audience at all times.
And, what exactly has it been like for you working with such a legendary artist?
It’s been a blessing to work with such a legend. I’ve been inspired in so many ways. A spontaneous radical journey, with incredible jam sessions that go on for hours. So many good songs are created when I’m there!
Also, this isn’t the first genius you have worked closely with considering I first became familiar with you through your musical kinship with the late, great King of Pop, Michael Jackson, and his This Is It posthumous concert film, what was it like for you being in the presence of greatness?
Michael was incredibly kind and gentle. And yet, he was such a force of nature. I was completely blown away by his command of the stage and relentless power that drove the entire production. He was such a boss. He sprinkled some of his magic on everybody in that room … we left rehearsals inspired and charged every time.
How closely or how well did you get to personally know him during your tenure with the G.O.A.T.?
I didn’t get a chance to know him that “personally.” Everything was in rehearsals. We had so much work to do and very little socializing time. Yet, he had a very welcoming presence and was fun and silly, even amongst the demanding schedule.
Did he, too, give you any invaluable advice as well?
I was very young and inexperienced at the time. He was very helpful in coaching my staging and teaching me how to seize the moments. I learned so much just singing with him and moving to his wavelength, which was always in the stratosphere.
Switching gears, you recently unveiled your “official” first entry, “Cry, Cry, Cry.” Tell us about this track. How did it come to fruition?
I first started singing that melody in the car on [my] way to the hospital last year. My mom was battling stage four cancer and it was a very difficult time. I remember going into the hospital room and singing her the song idea I had.  She immediately lit up and loved it so much. She said, “you have to record it!” Fast-forward months later, I now have this powerful arrangement of the song. The lyric encourages people to have faith. Sometimes you have to cry a little bit longer before the change comes, but it always does come. I’m happy to say my mom is cancer free and in full remission.
“Cry, Cry, Cry” comes courtesy of your long overdue debut solo LP, Back In Time. Conceptually, what does that title represent both to and for  you?
Back In Time is a celebration of all the beautiful memories I had as a kid growing up in a musical family. I wanted to make a record that captures the essence of my roots. I travel back to the good old days when we would jam on funk tunes and I sang along to gospel records. The album was recorded in a similar jam session type of style.
Just curious, how come Back In Time took so long to arrive? And, have you encountered any problems in getting to this point in your career?
For years, I recorded songs and struggled to get music out. I was pushed and pulled into many different scenarios with labels and production companies. Ironically, Back In Time only took three weeks to record and finish. The fastest process that was so effortless. Working with Prince certainly helped me get past the cannonballs of the business. It was refreshing to work with someone that championed the same music I champion.
What do you want people to get from your music?
I feel like there’s a little something for everybody on this record … whether it’s a sexy jazz vibe from “Love Trip” or the ultimate turn up funk jam on “Turn Up,” people can get it all depending on their mood. I also want people to feel encouraged and inspired by my message in “Beautiful Life” and “Angel in the Dark.”
If you could collaborate with any one artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I would love to have performed with Louis Armstrong. His singing and playing is so cheerful. His music makes me smile.
If you could play any venue in the world, which one would you choose and why?
I would want to play at Carnegie Hall. I’m very excited to explore orchestral arrangements of my songs next year.  Hopefully one day, I’ll find myself in the legendary Hall rocking out with the full orchestra.
One track of yours that you think defines you and why?
I think “Cry, Cry, Cry” defines me because it is very classic and gritty soul. I love the blues because you can take your time telling the story. I can lead people on a journey through my world with a song like this.
In terms of longevity, what do you feel has been the key to your overall success so far? And, of course, what do you think it is that will continue to sustain you in this grueling business of music?
The key to longevity is following your heart. There will always be advisers and companies that have ideas for your career. While many of them may be great, the most effective moves I’ve made were the ones that came from a passion within. I find that people connect best to the moments when they feel like an artist is honest. As I continue in my career, I plan on doing the things that excite me.
Do you have any other outside or additional future aspirations, maybe even completely away from music?
I’d like to work with high school students and bring music education into schools that lack music programs. I believe music education is so important. Kids have the power to change the scene for the better if they are given the resources.
To date, what has been your biggest career moment?
I would say the most impactful experience was singing “Heal the World” at Michael Jackson’s memorial service.  Though it was a tragic day, there was so much love and unity in the room because we all loved Michael. Nobody knew who I was yet … it was such a spiritual experience that transcended accolades and fame. I was honored and deeply humbled to celebrate his legacy at the service.
Looking ahead, say five or maybe even 10 years from now, where do you see yourself?
I see myself creating my own musical and three to four records deep in soul music. I would also like to have my own charity that funds and supports music education in schools.
As for the immediate, what’s next for Judith Hill?
Right now, I’m touring with the band for the rest of the year and promoting the record.
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