Backup singer Judith Hill makes long-awaited solo debut

Judith Hill (Michael Jackson, Spike Lee) at the Key Club in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012 (AP Photo/Robert Kenney)
AP

Judith Hill spent years backing up some of music's biggest names. Now, she is finally making her solo debut album, "Back In Time."

"It's very retro, old-school kind of music. The record has got stuff - everything from funk to a little bit of jazz and soul," said Hill.

The soul singer described funk music as a "lost art."

"A lot of people have forgotten about it or they haven't celebrated it as much. Especially younger artists," Hill said. "So it is in my DNA."

Hill said her love of music began from the "very beginning, from the crib." She wrote her first song when she was just 4 years old.

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Cover of Hill's debut solo album, "Back In Time"

"I was kind of an outcast growing up. I grew up in a mainly white community and I was the only one girl with big hair and biracial," Hill said. And a lot of times, kids would be like, 'Can you please move. I can't see the chalkboard, your hair's to big,' and all these things, so I felt a bit awkward in my own skin."

Hill kept on singing, launching her career as a backup singer. The 2013 Oscar and Grammy-winning documentary, "20 Feet From Stardom" featured her journey.

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Judith Hill (middle) performs in "Twenty Feet From Stardom." Radius

But her feelings about singing in the shadows were mixed.

"There's some people that we just love the textures and the blend of voices and that's something beautiful. But yes, at the heart of it, we're all singers and we want to present our voice and interpretation of what we see."

Hill worked with legendary pop icons, including Stevie Wonder and Josh Groban, but it was performing with the "King of Pop," Michael Jackson, that put Hill on the map.

"It was like being thrown into the fire. I was told, 'Give it your all. Michael, this is your first time performing with him, he's got to see it.' So I was like, 'Okay, just go for it!'"

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But Hill said she felt a calling and gained inspiration from singing alongside the pop icons.

"I need to take all this inspiration I've got from these people and really make sure I make the best version of me and get out there and do it," she said.

She competed on season four of "The Voice" two years ago. Although eliminated, Hill stayed persistent.

"It was always like 'I'm working on my record.' 'Oh, when is the record coming out?' 'I don't know,'" Hill said. "Working on my record, 10 years, 20 years have gone by. For whatever reasons, it couldn't come out, I'm still not putting this record out."

In a 2014 interview, Hill was asked who was left on her dream collaboration list. Two weeks later, she got a surprise phone call.

"I say, 'Hello,' and he says, 'Judith, this is Prince.' I was like, 'Oh, hi Prince.' Like real calm but really, going crazy in my living room," she said. "And we shared our love for funk music and that's kind of how it all started."

Prince invited Hill to his Paisley Park Studios for a jam session that would become the groundwork of her debut solo album, "Back In Time," co-produced by Prince himself.

"Prince is funky. And I wanted to work with someone who was funky and understood that. And it was the perfect collaboration," Hill said.