Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Judith Hill - The Amazing Singer From The Michael Jackson Memorial & The Voice

Update March 2013:  Judith Hill will be featured on the 2013 season of "The Voice" on NBC - Her blind audition was selected by NBC as the teaser video for the upcoming season - Wetpaint / The Voice on Judith Hill

Update February 2012:  Judith Hill had ten songs selected by Spike Lee for the 2012 film "Red Hook Summer".  Lee introduced Hill at a February performance at the Key Club in Hollywood (link to video below).

Hill was featured in an article at the same time in LA Weekly - Judith Hill: Why Just About Everyone Is Falling for Her

July 7, 2009 was the day much of the world was introduced to the singer Judith Hill, who performed as part of the Michael Jackson Memorial in Los Angeles. Hill is a native of Pasadena, California, and was hired for the scheduled Michael Jackson London O2 shows only weeks before Jackson's untimely death.

I've had the fortune of knowing Judith over the past two years, having first heard her singing with the wonderful woodwind player Katisse Buckingham, most often at a club called The Baked Potato in Studio City just north of Los Angeles (Judith's vocals are included on two tracks on Katisse's "Lyrical Worker" album, "Just Listen" and "Fame Buffet"). I've heard and met any number of the greatest jazz singers of our times, including Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Horn, Etta Jones and others. When I first heard Judith Hill, I was quite simply knocked out, and that doesn't happen hardly at all...she was just that good.

Hearing what I'd heard, I took the opportunity to regularly write about her appearances with Katisse for LAJazz.com. I encouraged Judith to use some of the things I'd written for promotional purposes (which she eventually did as part of her online press kit), because I thought she deserved more recognition as the outstanding young female singer of all I'd heard in L.A. I also began documenting video and audio of her performances. Included on this page are songs recorded in May, 2009 at the only solo performance Judith had given in more than a year, on this occasion as a guest of Ryan Cross' weekly "Soul Funk Night" at Harvelle's in Santa Monica, CA.

Judith only recently turned 25, but has a musical sophistication of someone twice her age. Her father, Robert "Peewee" Hill, is a R&B bass player and producer who has worked with artists including Jimmy Smith, Bruce Springsteen and Thelma Houston, her mother, Michiko, a classical pianist and choir director who has also worked with jazz luminaries including Wayne Shorter. When I struggled to find a comparison for Judith, the best I could come up with was a young Valerie (Ashford &) Simpson, but earthier. The subtlety and sophistication she displayed with Katisse's band was at times astonishing...showing so many of the little things in terms of phrasing, timing, pitch, accents and more reserved for only the finest veteran singers. Yet there she was.

As I heard her more over the past year, I became convinced that of the many fabulous musicians I've had the fortune of meeting over the past several years in Los Angeles, Judith was the one that had the best chance of becoming a major star. I shared that view with her, and many other people, while writing about her for LAJazz.com as part of my weekly "About & Out" column.

I heard various samples of her own tunes as well, which she was slowly putting together in her family's music studio over the past year. I was especially taken with a recently finished song called "Excuse Me!", in which she'd somehow managed to create a danceable hip-hop tune in 7/4 with lyrics like these:

Imma take control of this infiltration
The CEO’s in a state of delirium
They can’t take me off the system’s hacked and I’ve cracked the code I’m roaming you
All downloading
Imma double the number of those revolting, the crowd is jolting the seats in the stadium
It’s a revolutionary type of a missionary coup lets move it common now
Everyday I come in everyway, I’m cashin radio plays, broadcastin up in 5 4 3 2 1

When I first heard it a few months ago, I played it twenty times (or so) in a row...it was that striking. Judith currently has it available on her MySpace Music page (Play button & link below).

Excuse Me!

I was thrilled when Judith landed the Michael Jackson London O2 gigs, and we had a chance to talk about what it could mean for her career and more, including the pending release of her first solo CD, which she'd just finished around the time the call came from Jackson's people. I was equally devastated by the news of Jackson's passing, and what it might mean for what I thought would be the near-instant stardom that would follow her appearances in duets with Jackson in London. Hearing and seeing her perform live conveys something difficult to find the exact words, yet incredibly moving. Judith had told me that vocal director Dorian Holley had moved from asking her to sing the planned "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" duet with Jackson "just like the record", to "do what you do" after only a few rehearsals - I can only assume he'd heard what others of us had.

When Jackson's "This Is It" movie appeared in late October, 2009, a rehearsal performance of "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" I'd heard about from Judith (she'd told me they had shot the duet during three separate rehearsals) appeared, and Judith's talent (Jackson had never heard her sing live prior) was inspiring enough to bring Jackson to full throat for the first time, extending the song with an improvised duet, to the almost giddy delight of the dancers and crew in attendance.

Judith Hill discusses working with Michael Jackson and the rehearsals for "This Is It" - The Turntable with Justis Mustaine

Hill also has fans in some of the toughest veteran musicians I know, people who are renowned for both sparing and faint praise, if any is to be offered at all. In Judith's case, even the most difficult critics have been floored. In producing her own record, Judith also used some of the most sophisticated veteran players in L.A. to get the sound she wanted for her own music.

Judith also learned in 2007 what a truly big stage was when she toured as a backup singer with French superstar Michel Polnareff, playing for audiences as large as 1 million people at the Eiffel Tower (video sample below).

I watched the live memorial to see what, if any, role Judith might play, as we'd not spoken since a few days after Jackson's death. I instantly knew her voice off-camera backing John Mayer's "Human Nature", with a purity that is one of her gifts (you can hear Judith come in distinctly just before the 3:00 mark singing a high part originally done by Jackson - scroll down for video).

Left To Right - John Mayer, Ken Stacey, Judith Hill, Darryl Phinnessee, Dorian Holley

Judith Hill with Orianthi Panagaris

When I began watching "We Are The World", and then "Heal The World" live, and saw Judith move front and center, I was in tears both for her fabulous performance, and the knowledge that the rest of the world would see what only a relative few of us had known before that point...a genuinely extraordinary talent that was almost impossible to deny.

Welcome, world, to Judith Hill.


Judith Hill Music

The Official Site Of Judith Hill

Judith Hill on MySpace



Oje said...

this girl totally rocks. i was moved and knocked out of my seat the moment i heard her sing. i literally ran out to get my laptop and googled her immediately. her one performance in the memorial would definitely be better than the supposed 50-concert tour. she shined to the full!!

Anonymous said...

Everyone I know is asking "who on earth was that?" -- referring to the girl who sang the lead in 'we are the world'.

I obviously never heard of her before now but W-O-W! What an incredible singer. I hope she achieves recognition so we can hear more of her.


P.S. Just how tall is she? She seemed to be wearing 4" heels but even without them she seems really tall because she seemed to tower over the rest. (Just curious???)

Tom Meek said...

Judith is around 5'10" or so, I think, as she's usually looking me in the eye (I'm 5'11") when we've talked...hah!

kerry4ever said...

I thought she overdid it a bit on "We are the World", but then there was a lot of showcasing going on. I'll always remember her on Human Nature, and I think the world will. She'll be singing at my funeral!

Cheryl said...

This girl is aaaamazing with the versatility...jazz, funk, soul, and pop, and most likely gospel. Now only one question remains...can she dance?? If it turns out Judith can cut a rug too, look out world...we got another superstar icon...courtesy of the ONE whose shoes she may have been CHOSEN to fill. Rock on, Judith..and the best of luck!

Big Red said...

Not to mention that she is absolutely, drop-dead gorgeous too! Wow, such a beautiful and talented performer. She stepped up amazingly during Michael's memorial. I think she is going to be VERY successful as well.

Anonymous said...

Like most people who saw her perform, I want to know more about her and I want to buy her CD right away. But, if we learned anything about fame through Michael Jackson, it could destroy and deplete her in the long run. I hope she gets good advices and take her time and do the thing right. I want her to have a long and enduring career but at the sametime not give so much of her self where she can't live normally.

I noticed you changed the blog since yesterday. Yesterday you referenced Kenny Ortega, the Music Director, and today you changed to Dorian Holley, the Vocal Director. Did you happen to talk to Judith yesterday, and did she corrected you? If you did, how is she doing now?

Tom Meek said...

Wow...people pay attention to this stuff..and yes...I did speak to Judith last night for the first time since the memorial, and she reminded me (it was the ONE thing I wasn't sure of my memory about from our prior conversations) that it was Dorian Holley who had made the comment I originally attributed to Kenny Ortega, which I corrected immediately.

We also discussed possibilities for her own music being released, and watch this space for futher updates. Judith is a smart woman and I trust she'll be doing the right things. Thanks for your interest.

Hales Family said...

I just saw her on "This is it" singing the "I just can't stop loving you" duet with Michael - I was completely mezmorized by her voice/talent. Left me wanting more of her. Don't worry Mr. Meek your wish will come true, the world will know her, especially after the film. And the world will be all the better for having her smooth voice on the airwaves! I'm excited to watch her take off!

Anonymous said...

Wow! So wonderfully enjoyable and joyful!! I just saw 'This Is It' and enjoyed her duet with Michael. She clearly inspired him as he took is voice from rehearsal level to performance level. I'm very much looking forward to hearing more from Judith Hill! Quoting another post: "Her performance of 'Heal the World' was beyond moving and I wish her all the success life has to offer." And another: "There aren't many people with voices that fill up your soul with joy, as much as Judith. Judith is a rarity and a gem." Words others have said elsewhere but I wanted to include them here.