By Gabby Redding | April 6, 2024

If you’re not familiar with Judith Hill’s name, you’ll certainly recognize her voice. Before she became a standout favorite on “The Voice” in 2013, she had already solidified her reputation as one of the most iconic backing vocalists of our time, collaborating with legends like Michael Jackson, Prince, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder. She was also prominently featured in the acclaimed documentary “20 Feet from Stardom,” which delved into the lives and careers of backup singers in the music industry. In the film, Judith talks about her aspirations for a solo career, aiming to use her vocals to convey her personal narrative. Her upcoming album accomplishes just that, crafting a biography that addresses the media scrutiny she has faced and her resilience in the face of it, while also celebrating moments of joy amidst the challenges. Titled Letters from a Black Widow, the album is set to release on April 26th, promising listeners an exploration of Judith reclaiming a narrative that others have attempted to dictate for her. 

Judith Hill’s transition from a renowned backing vocalist to a solo artist with a distinct voice highlights her talent and resilience amidst adversity. Her upcoming album not only showcases her vocal skills but also delves into her personal journey with sincerity and depth. While the influences of her past collaborators can be detected, the album is undeniably and uniquely hers.

From her reflections on the strong women in her family in tracks like “Dame de la Luminaire,” to her confrontation of the hurtful depiction of herself in “Black Widow,” Judith brings raw emotion and honesty to her music. Her ability to channel her experiences into powerful storytelling is evident throughout the album. With each song, Judith leaves an enduring mark, reclaiming her narrative and inspiring others to find strength in their own stories. We’re excited to hear these live at her show on Tuesday, April 9th, at Mercury Lounge (snag tix).

We caught up with Judith Hill a week before her show, where she answered a few questions for the groovement.

What was your first concert?
Billy Preston and Little Richard.

Who do you draw inspiration from, and who are you hoping to inspire with your music?
I’ve always drawn a lot of inspiration from Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, and Aretha Franklin, and gospel singers like the Clark Sisters. I just hope to inspire the younger generation to celebrate roots-based soul music. I think a lot of times there’s so much emphasis on jazz and R&B, but I hope to also inspire the young kids to get into the blues, and to the roots of where the music came from.

That Jimi Hendrix sound really comes through in the new album! There’s also a little Janis Joplin vibe in there as well. As someone who has become so iconic for their work with other artists, how do you carve out a sound that’s uniquely your own?
For me, it’s all about integration, and taking all of the history that I’ve had, and being able to really find something that’s authentic to my message. It’s using all of the different color palettes to really shape that and make it authentic. That’s the way I really carve out my own statement. It’s all about serving the song, and the authenticity of the song, and using all of the tools, and all of the inspiration over the years that I had to make that statement. For me, the most important thing is the statement itself more than how it ‘sounds different’ from anything else. There’s so much emphasis on making it sound different. For me, it’s about making it powerful and authentic.

We’re glad you brought up authenticity, because that’s such a major theme in your new album. It feels very autobiographical, particularly “Dame de la Luminaire,” which is already out! You’re introducing us to the women of your family in a very honest way. Tell us about how you were inspired to write that song specifically. 
When I first wrote the song, I was originally trying to write about dresses in a vintage clothing store. That’s one of my favorite things to do, go to vintage stores and shop. I was writing about how the dresses represented powerful women in different eras, and as the song writing progressed, I realized I wanted to make it more personal and about the women in my life, and particularly my grandmother and my mom. I dedicated this to each one of them, and let the song ultimately celebrate all women. ‘Dame de la Luminaire’ is really my chance to tap into our power as women, and create something that’s beautiful and personal, yet something very empowering.

What is the background behind the song “Black Widow,” which appears to delve into some of the album’s darkest themes? The use of the term ‘Black Widow,’ often associated with strength and threat in relation to women, seems significant. How does the song reflect on this identity imposed on you, especially considering the song’s references to past collaborations with iconic artists [Prince and Michael Jackson]?
This was a term that started to circle around online and was used in a very derogatory hurtful way, basically saying I’m this cursed bad energy. “Stay away from her.” They were saying I was linked to these deaths, and it was an awful depiction of me. I really internalized it, and it put me into a depression, and really dark space, and I wasn’t able to really get past that for years. I would go to counseling, and the counselor would say “I think you should write about it, it would be probably very liberating for you to just put your pen to this energy in you, and at least be able to communicate and express it.” After years I finally was able to write a song about it, and the song was my opportunity to create a theatrical reenactment of what it felt like to be called the black widow, and how that affected me. It was really really powerful for me to write that, because I’d never written a song like that before, um and I relied a lot on theater to help me write that, because that was my way of giving it meaning, and making it something that people can understand.

We think your fans are going to be very excited to see this live, and see you reclaim that term in a way that’s so powerful and theatrical! 

In this album, you also have “Downtown Boogie,” which is beyond being vulnerable, but also just so fun. It’s shaping up to be a girls night out anthem – the track is a blast to listen to! To conclude, let’s discuss the significance of freedom and levity in contrast to the album’s weightier lyrics.
Yeah it’s funny, it’s chaos and it’s fun. It’s about me going and needing to find that levity, and allowing myself some freedom from all the darkness. It’s a chance to get loose on the dance floor and let it all come out, and it’s a question of if she’s falling apart or freeing herself. I leave the song as an open-ended question, because that’s how it is with life. It’s a work in progress. Some days you feel better, some days you feel worse, but this is about being able to get out there, be unapologetic, and celebrate life. No matter how that looks or comes out, you just accept it. Downtown Boogie is a chance for this story and its heaviness to find its way out to the dance floor.

Connect with Judith Hill on Instagram, Spotify, and her website.

Image source