Soul-stirring vocalist, firebrand guitarist, and brilliant songwriter, Judith Hill is a thrilling triple threat, onstage, on record, and in collaboration. She’s led a whirlwind musical life across nearly 20 years, and the multi-hued journey found her back in her hometown of Los Angeles late last month for a searing performance as part of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival at Crypto.com Arena. Hill’s scorching set was punctuated by a surprise sit-in from one of her favorite guitarists, the electrifying Eric Gales.
Clapton’s legions of followers across several generations were most recently made aware of Hill’s voluminous talents by way of their July 2023 collaboration “How Could You Know”. Soon, they’d swiftly learn more about the skills and swagger she brings to the stage. Flanked by a fantastically funky backing band that featured both her parents, in just 20 scintillating minutes the badass bandleader stunned an arena brimming with guitar aficionados, satiating longtime supporters and winning over thousands of new fans.
Judith Hill has been in the game for a good while; her list of collaborators reads like a veritable all-star team. She’s dueted with Michael Jackson, written, recorded, and performed with Prince, plus luminaries like George Benson, Stevie Wonder, Spike Lee, Elton John, Ringo Starr, John Legend, Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), and Josh Groban all have worked with Hill in a variety of capacities. In addition to that sterling star power, she’s often recognized for her run on the fourth season of The Voice.
Judith Hill – “Runaway Train” – 9/23/23
On the heels of 2021’s Baby I’m Hollywood, her third full-length LP, Hill has taken leaps beyond the shadows of her bold-font relationships, into the bright lights of budding solo stardom. On September 15th Hill unveiled her latest, funky-blues single “Runaway Train”, which made for a potent opening blast to the Crossroads crowd. Judith wasted no time tearing into her trusty black Gibson SG with a focused ferocity on her brand-new number.
An appropriate tune for this particular moment, “Runaway Train” finds Hill looking into the hourglass and rearview mirror, acknowledging the sacrifices she’s made across two decades to find her way as a bi-racial woman in a cutthroat, unforgiving music industry. Reflecting on the consequences of choices, and the crossroads of her life. It was a perfect, impactful song for a monumental return to the city of her roots.
A lifelong resident of the greater Los Angeles area, Hill was born in North Hollywood and grew up amidst the city’s gridlocked traffic and suffocating smog. Her Black father Robert Lee “Pee Wee” Hill is a bassist, Japanese mother Michiko Hill a pianist. Hill’s parents met as members of drummer Chester Thompson’s band. Pee Wee was also the bassist for Billy Preston, who used to visit the Hill house regularly and play their organ as a young Judith soaked it all in.
Judith Hill – “Burn It All” – 9/23/23
As a high school junior, she attended College of the Canyons, an arts-focused high school that doubled as a community college, where she excelled at jazz and big band. Soon Judith took off on a career journey all her own—exploring classical, jazz, blues, show tunes, and R&B—one that delivered her back to L.A. on a huge stage, with the spotlight all on her.
With Pee Wee and Michiko on bass and keys, respectively, Hill tapped SoCal’s uber-funky drummer John Staten to hold down the beats, a veteran of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, and later Pimps of Joytime. The tight crew was ably augmented by the soulful stylings of backing singers Sophia Whitehurst and Carmel Echols. The unit performed as a well-oiled machine, responding to Judith’s nuance and command, reacting to her vocals, sudden signals, and pungent guitar tones.
This chemistry and communication was evident during the Crossroads set’s middle song, “Burn It All”, found on Baby, I’m Hollywood. Her mother Michiko unveiled sweeping organ runs as daughter Judith assertively dug into her axe, peeling off screaming lines while singing of a “dirty dog” masquerading as a “sugar bear.” Pee Wee and Staten held down the rhythmic anchor with authority, Whitehurst and Echols harmonized with aplomb, and Michiko added some ’70s synth sounds atop, yet it was without question Judith’s Gibson wail that really drove the composition home.
In between tunes, Hill reflected back a good decade-plus to this very same stage, where she famously dueted with Michael Jackson in preparation for his ill-fated This Is It residency slated for London’s 02 Arena in 2009. This took place just before the King of Pop suddenly passed away that June; hers was an emotional recollection, one rooted in grief, trauma, triumph, and living in wonder of what might have been.
Judith Hill – “Give Your Love To Someone Else” – 9/23/23
With that, Hill and her band dove deep into the always-epic “Give Your Love to Someone Else”, also from Baby I’m Hollywood. The passionate, fiery cut reveals Hill at quite possibly her finest, empowered and emoting through vocals and guitar with an almost spiritualized verve. The time-honored tale of an irreparably broken relationship, “Give Your Love to Someone Else” packs a magnificent melody and a heart-wrenching message, essential elements to the elixir of this phenomenal song.
To close out her short, powerful set at Crossroads, Hill welcomed the great Eric Gales—one of Judith’s favorite guitarists—to her stage mid-song. Having never met one another before this day, Hill humbly held space for the renowned virtuoso, and Gales proceeded to uncork off an emphatic, yet tasteful, guitar solo of his own. Eric Gales’ lightning licks and euphoric onstage energy brought the exquisite “Give Your Love to Someone Else”, and Judith Hill’s dazzling Crossroads performance, to a delightful crescendo. Hill put her foot into the final verse and chorus with all the grit she could summon, and graciously thanked her guest, band, and the adoring crowd as she exited the arena stage to a roar.
What’s next for the continuously climbing Judith Hill? In the tailwind of Crossroads, Hill and her squad threw down a series of smaller California concerts to throaty, packed houses. She took over the East Bay’s celebrated jazz haunt Yoshi’s Oakland for three consecutive nights, September 26th–28th, then jetted back down south for a showcase at Venice West in Venice Beach.
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Wildly popular across the proverbial pond, starting next week Judith Hill will embark on a month-long European fall tour across France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, and Czechia in support of her new music. (Word on the street is another album, Hill’s fourth solo effort, is expected in early 2024.) Hill returns stateside November 17th–18th to close out her year in Atlantic City, NJ as a very special guest for Chicago & Friends to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the legendary rock band’s debut album Chicago Transit Authority.
For more information and to learn more about Judith Hill, please visit judithhill.com.
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Judith Hill 2023 Tour Dates
Sept. 23: Los Angeles, CA – Crossroads Music Festival
Sept. 26-28: Oakland, CA – Yoshi’s
Sept. 29: Venice, CA – Venice West
Oct 12: Nîmes, France – Nîmes Métropole Jazz Festival
Oct. 13: Aubange, Belgium – Centre Culturel d’Athus
Oct. 14: Nancy, France – Nancy Jazz Pulsations
Oct. 15: Verdun, France – Cathedral de Verdun
Oct. 16: Zülpich, Germany – Live Proberaum
Oct. 18: Hengelo, Netherlands – Cafe De Cactus
Oct. 19: Arnhem, Netherlands – Musis & Stadstheater
Oct. 21: Prerov, Czechia – Czechoslovak Jazz Festival
Oct. 22: Bremen, Germany – Metropol Theater Bremen
Oct. 24: Augsburg, Germany – Spectrum Club
Oct. 25: Aschaffenburg, Germany – Colos-Saal
Oct. 26: Nurnberg, Germany – Der Hirsch
Oct. 28: Fiesch, Switzerland – Inch Club
Nov. 1: Stuttgart, Germany – Bix
Nov. 2: Milan, Italy – Blue Note Milano
Nov. 4: Rome, Italy – Roma Jazz Festival
Nov. 5: Bologna, Italy – Bravo Caffe
Nov. 7: Zoetermeer, Netherlands – Poppodium Boerderij
Nov. 8: Marcq-en-Barouel, France – Theatre Charcto
Nov. 10: Aulnay Sous Bois, France – Le Nouveau Cap
Nov. 12: Landerneau, France – L’atelier Culturel
Nov. 14: Dreux, France – Theatre de Dreux
Nov. 17-18: Atlantic City, NJ – Chicago & Friends