Soulful underground sound: Judith Hill brings her powerhouse vocals to the Vilar |

Soulful underground sound: Judith Hill brings her powerhouse vocals to the Vilar

Judith Hill will perform as part of the Underground Sound Series on Sept. 28 at VPAC.
Courtesy photo

After being known as “the girl who worked with this person and that person,” — as in, singing with Michael Jackson, John Legend and Josh Groban and recording her debut album with Prince — Judith Hill is reclaiming her place as a soulful singer in her own right.

Hill’s latest album, “Baby I’m Hollywood,” details her process of self-discovery as she voyages through the annals of Black music: past, present and future.

Her rich blend of funk, rock and soul, led by her powerhouse vocals and backed by a spirited band, takes audiences on profound musical journeys.

“That’s my mission statement: It’s about transcendence, it’s about the healing power of music to access pain, to access shame, to access all the things that may be hard to access … (and bring) a sense of community and vulnerability that’s like no other,” Hill said.

In 2009, she worked with Jackson as his duet partner for the “This Is It” concerts, then performed for his memorial service in Los Angeles, leading the song “Heal the World,” which garnered global attention.

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“Michael is one of a kind. He’s just someone who embodies a type of energy you just don’t see (anymore, with) his ability to transcend and believe in something greater … It was the first time I experienced an artist taking music and using it as a way to empower people,” Hill said, adding that the collaboration helped her “understand that my calling is so much more than music.”

She views music and live shows as a way of sharing and inspiring a sense of togetherness.

“It’s a collaborative space where everyone in that room is like a family connected through the music. It’s a sacred space,” she said, adding that the Vilar audience “can expect a spiritual, communal experience. … I don’t see myself as an entertainer. I see myself as a facilitator. The reasons I do what I do is because I am really passionate about music and its ability to go on a deeper level.”

Recording her first full-length album, “Back in Time,” with Prince at his Paisley Park compound in 2015 bolstered her confidence in following her own vision. She had already sung on the soundtracks of “Happy Feet Two” in 2011 and “Dr. Suess’ The Lorax” in 2012, made a big splash on the fourth season of “The Voice” in 2013 and had been signed to a major label. But Prince acted as mentor, encouraging her not to chase trends, but rather, to return to her roots, which supported the family jam sessions in which she seeped; her mother played piano in a church where Sly Stone directed the choir, and her parents originally met in a funk group in the 1970s.

“Prince said, ‘you can do this on your own. Don’t let anyone take your power away. Take control of your narrative,’” she said. “It reassured me that my whole childhood was what it was supposed to be.”

In charting her own destiny, she describes her current tour as an intro to fully owning herself and who she is and “allowing the good and bad to exist and reclaiming (my) story.”

Released last year, “Baby I’m Hollywood” portrays pleasure, pain, celebration and consequences in its 13-track album. Her new record, set to debut next year, reveals an even deeper side of herself.

“I’m starting to talk more about shame and things that are a point of shame for me. Shame is one of those things that the moment you start talking about it, it loses its power,” she said, adding that it’s important for her to be open and honest so “people don’t feel that they’re alone in that.”

Her soulful grooves have moved many fans, who tell her that her songs express stories of their lives and act as a soundtrack to their journey.

“Music allows healing,” she said. “Every concert is an opportunity to bring that energy into the room.”

If you go…

Who: Judith Hill

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center

Tickets: $28

More info:

This show is for you if you like: Jill Scott, Emily King, Joss Stone, Alicia Keys, Esperanza Spalding, Adele, Whitney Houston, John Legend or Macy Gray.

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