Lauryn Hill enlightens, inspires, and ‘keeps it moving’
After a long absence, Lauryn Hill returned to recording in 2015, paying tribute to Nina Simone on the album “Nina Revisited,” which was released in conjunction with the Netflix documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?”
“Because I fed on this music — both hers and lovers like her –like my basic food, I believed I always had a right to have a voice,” Hill said about Simone in a statement. “Her example is clearly a form of sustenance to a generation needing to find theirs. What a gift.”
Along with Mary J. Blige, Common, Usher and Gregory Porter, who also sang on the album, Hill contributed almost half the tracks, the largest collection of songs she had released since “MTV Unplugged 2.0” in 2002.
“This album mainly showcases Lauryn Hill’s breadth and dexterity,” NPR Music praised. “Her take on the Jacques Brel’s ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ is defiant and daring. Her take on Simone’s classic, ‘Feeling Good,’ is one of the best renditions of this most-covered of Simone’s songs. Her rhapsodic version of ‘I’ve Got Life’ proves why she was always Simone’s true heir apparent.”
First finding fame as a member of the Fugees, it was her debut solo album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” released in 1998, which transformed her into a superstar.
Recorded at Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica, the album featured reggae legend Earl “Chinna” Smith on guitar along with help from Julian Marley and Carlos Santana.
Incorporating Motown soul, hip hop, reggae and gospel, it was widely praised with Entertainment Weekly hailing it as “an album of often-astonishing power, strength and feeling.”
Debuting at No. 1 on the album charts, it earned 10 Grammy nominations and won five, making Hill the first woman to receive so many nominations and awards in one night. She won Best New Artist, Best R&B Song, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Album and Album of the Year.
By 2013, “Miseducation” had sold over eight million copies in the U.S. and more than 19 million copies worldwide.
While Hill gained wide acclaim for creating one of the greatest albums of the 1990s, she disappeared from public life shortly after the Grammy ceremony.
“I was just unhappy with my life,” she told MTV News. “I had acquired everything I thought I wanted, only to find out, this is it? I ran very fast in the wrong direction. The less I have, the freer I am to do whatever I want to do.”
Raised in New Jersey, Hill began singing with her family as a child, singing along to soul greats such as Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. She enjoyed success as an actress at an early age, appearing in a recurring role on the TV soap opera “As the World Turns” and starring in the 1993 film “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.”
In high school, Hill was approached by Pras Michel to start a band, which his friend, Wyclef Jean, soon joined. They renamed themselves the Fugees and released the albums “Blunted on Reality” in 1994 and the Grammy Award-winning “The Score” in 1996, featuring the cover of “Killing Me Softly” which made her a star.
“We’re trying to do something positive with the music because it seems like only the negative is rising to the top these days,” Hill commented on ‘The Score.’ “It only takes a drop of purity to clean a cesspool.”
In 1997, the Fugees split to work on solo projects. “The Fugees was a conspiracy to control, to manipulate and to encourage dependence,” she later told Trace magazine in 2005.
Hill collaborated with soul legend Aretha Franklin during this period, writing and producing her single “A Rose is Still a Rose,” and later directing the song’s music video. She also recorded Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made To Love Him” with Whitney Houston.
In 1999, she rapped on the track “Do You Like The Way” on Santana’s “Supernatural.” The same year, she sang a remixed version of “Turn Your Lights Down Low” on “Chant Down Babylon,” a tribute to reggae icon Bob Marley.
After an extended hiatus following the release of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” she returned in 2002 with “MTV Unplugged No. 2.0,” a live recording taken from a two-hour acoustic performance on the MTV Unplugged show.
“I used to be a performer, and I really don’t consider myself to be a performer no more,” Hill announced at the beginning of the show. And later she told the crowd: “Music was my love, and because of everything I thought had to accompany my music, it
became my burden. How did this thing that I love so much so easily and so quickly turn to something I loathe and hate?”
While not critically well received — Entertainment Weekly called it “perhaps the most bizarre follow-up in the history of (popular music)” — the album eventually sold one million copies. Complex Music recently reevaluated the album and praised Hill, one of the most talented musicians of our time, for her bravery and honesty. “Few artists, past or present, would have the courage to follow up the biggest success of their career with 106 minutes of uncut, unfinished, never-before-heard material. Twelve years later it still feels refreshing.”
And then there was silence following the MTV Unplugged live recording. Nothing from Hill for a couple of years until John Legend’s Grammy-nominated remix of “So High,” which featured her on vocals. Then, in 2007, British soul singer Joss Stone’s acclaimed third album, “Introducing Joss Stone,” included a guest duet with Hill.
In 2013, Hill was convicted on tax evasion and spent almost three months in prison. In a Tumblr post, she said that she had gone underground and had rejected pop culture’s “climate of hostility, false entitlement, manipulation, racial prejudice, sexism and ageism.”
Right before heading to prison, she signed a contract with Sony that effectively created a new label, Observe Creation Music, and obligated her to record five new songs, followed by a new album.
In May 2013, she released her first official single in over a decade, “Neurotic Society (Compulsory Mix),” an urgent commentary on social and economic injustice built over a frenetic beat. She published a message on Tumblr describing how she was “required to release (it) immediately, by virtue of the impending legal deadline.”After release from prison, she delivered the single “Consumerism.”
“I’ve been fighting for existential and economic freedom, which means the freedom to create and live without someone threatening, controlling and/or manipulating the art and the artist by tying the purse strings,” she reported. “I’ve seen people promote addiction, use sabotage, black listing, media bullying and any other coercion technique they could, to prevent artists from knowing their true value or exercising their full power.”
The following year, the English-language version of the Swedish documentary “Concerning Violence” was released with Hill as its narrator. The film covered African nationalist and independence movements in the 1960s and ’70s that challenged colonial and white minority rule.
In 2010, the unofficial “Khulami Phase” was released including tracks from an abandoned 2004 project, live songs and “Lose Myself” from the soundtrack to the kids’ cartoon “Surf’s Up.”
Pursuing her own unique creative path, Hill has affirmed: “As artists, we have an opportunity to help the public evolve, raise consciousness and awareness, teach, heal, enlighten and inspire in ways the democratic process may not be able to touch. So we keep it moving.”
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Congratulations to Maui’s Peter Kater, who Sunday night won the Best New Age Album Grammy for “Dancing on Water.” He has been nominated before and never won until this year. He was up against artists such as Brian Eno, India.Arie and Kitaro.
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A free celebration concert paying tribute to late Maui musician Fulton Tashombe will be held on from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the MACC’s Yokouchi Pavilion. Musicians performing include Kelly Covington, The HouseShakers, Joe Cano, Jimmy Mac and Louise Lambert. Attendees are requested to RSVP to email@example.com.
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The Maui Chamber Orchestra will present winners of its first ever Youth Concerto Competition in concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Also featured will be rising cello phenomenon Jonah Ellsworth from Boston.
The co-winners of the Junior Division are sisters Yxing and Ylang Guo (10 and 12 years old, respectively) from Oahu. Yxing will perform “Winter” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and Ylang will perform the first movement of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major.
The Senior Division winner, Maui pianist Bryce Clearing Sky, studies with Ruth Murata-Eisen online. Currently a senior at Indiana University High School, he will perform the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major.
* Concerts will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets prices have been reduced from $27 to $10 for students younger than 18 years of age. Adult tickets range from $27 to $55. Tickets are available at www.mauichamberorchestra.org or by calling the theater box office at 242-6969.