Since winning the 2015 Grammy Award for best music film as one of the featured backup singers in the Academy Award-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom and releasing her Prince-produced studio album Back in Time the same year, Judith Hill has been relatively quiet. But that doesn’t mean the former The Voice contestant hasn’t stayed busy.
The singer/songwriter/musician premieres her new single’s video via Billboard this morning (May 18). “The Pepper Club” is the first release from her forthcoming full-length studio album, Golden Child, which will come out on her Gloryhill label. Golden Child is also the title of her first live musical production; both projects will bow concurrently later this year.
“I was just writing organically from the heart,” says Hill of the 13-track album that she began working on in 2016. “As I kept creating, I realized there was a story to be told, a message that carried a common thread,” she continues. “That’s what inspired the musical.”
That musical thread sews together stories involving a community of diverse residents and how they find unity as they overcome societal divisions and hatred that try to separate them. Hill is quick to point out that Golden Child isn’t a traditional musical. “It’s a Cirque du Soleil kind of modern ballet,” she explains, one that infuses African, samba, classical and Arabic, among other cultural flavors. Also threaded with the spontaneity and improvisation of a funk/rock concert, Golden Child will be an immersive experience, performed in a yet-unnamed Los Angeles venue where the audience will sit in the center. “It’s almost like an installation,” says Hill, “celebrating the collaboration between art, fashion and music.”
Filmed in Los Angeles and directed by award-winning filmmaker Jon Jon “JJ” Augustavo, the rollicking “The Pepper Club” video introduces some of the characters that will appear in the live musical. The video cast includes choreographers Bradley Rapier and Tessandra Chavez, So You Think You Can Dance champ Lex Ishimoto and fellow season 14 finalist and Ishimoto’s girlfriend Taylor Sieve. The Pepper Club itself is an obscure speakeasy in the desert where everyone can be accepted for themselves.
Watch the “The Pepper Club” video:
As for the Golden Child album, Hill says it’s similar stylistically to its funk/soul-driven predecessor Back in Time. Except for one major difference: she wrote with a guitar this time rather than her trusty piano. “It was an instrument I loved but never played before,” she says of picking up the guitar a year ago. “It’s almost like another voice, a hidden voice that finally wanted to come out. There’s a lot of aggressive energy in me, so you’ll hear more guitar on this project. It’s just a very powerful form of expression.”
While it’s not on the forthcoming album, Hill also recently released the single “Abracadabra,” featured in national ad campaigns for Kohl’s and the Blue Moon Brewing Company (listen to “Abracadabra” here). She’s also gearing up for a European tour this summer. During that period, three additional singles from the Golden Child album will be issued in advance of the project’s release.
But new projects aside, what truly stokes Hill’s creative passion is sharing the magic of music with elementary and high school students. She, along with Sheila E., Siedah Garrett and former Chi lead singer Sylver Logan Sharp, performed in support of The Los Angeles Unified School District’s “We Are One!” benefit concert in April. She also routinely visits area schools to perform, share her varied industry experience — from working with Stevie Wonder, Prince and Michael Jackson to Josh Groban and Spike Lee — and bring music back to classrooms.
“The best part is after the performance,” says Hill. “It’s so rewarding to watch the kids’ eyes get big as they become inspired. I remember when I was that age and how much of an impact music had on me. It’s what inspired me to do what I do now.”