Childhood & Early Life
H.E.R. was born Gabriella Wilson in Vallejo, California on June 27, 1997 to parents Kenny and Agnes Wilson. She drew early inspirations in music from her father, who was a member of a local California band named Urban Bushmen. Her mother was a native Filipino and a homemaker. She was nicknamed Gabi by her parents when she was little.
Taking inspirations from her father, she started learning and playing music at a very young age. She played in the New York City at the Apollo Theatre when she was nine years old. It was one of her first experiences in front of a large crowd.
She also appeared in the ‘Today Show’, where she played piano for Alicia Keys. H.E.R. also made appearance with Alicia in the Grammy Awards at the age of 12. Additionally, she played music in shows such as ‘The Maury Pauvich Show’, ‘Good Morning America’ and ‘The View’.
Still 12, she also made a big career breakthrough when she performed two songs at the ASCAP Awards and later that year, she was voted one among the three Radio Disney’s ‘Next Big Thing’. She was getting a lot of fame when she was young, which although did give her the very useful industry exposure, it also made her self-conscious and she decided to work mostly from behind the curtains.
Sony Entertainment signed a contract with her when she was 14 years old. The song ‘Something to Prove’ was her first officially released song after which she took a break for 2 years.
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She had remained a mystery for the music lovers and she let no information about her past/present becoming public knowledge. She adopted the stage name H.E.R., which stood for ‘having everything revealed’, and made her comeback in late 2016 signed up with RCA Records label. She released her debut EP titled ‘HER Vol. 1’ without any prior buzz or marketing whatsoever.
Kehlani, K. Michelle and Zhavia worked as executive producers on the EP which was released in September 2016. Initially, the album did not pick up pace. Alicia Keys and Bryson Tiller, who were signed under the same label, shared the word about the album on their social media accounts.
Several more artists such as Usher and Pusha T came in support of the EP and slowly it gained a strong buzz. Rihanna was also one of the supporters of the album and she uploaded a clip on Instgram where one of EP’s track ‘Focus’ was playing in the background. The video received 5 million hits and the album gained further attention.
As more positive reviews poured in from the critics and the listeners, several more celebrities such as Kylie Jenner and Kendall Jenner came ahead to support it. On Spotify, the tracks from the album have been listened to more than 20 million times. On all the other streaming platforms combined, the album was played 65 million times. This overwhelming success indicated that her music was being loved.
The success story did not stop here. NPR Radio included the EP ‘H.E.R. Vol 1’ among the ‘5 Essential R&B Albums You Slept On’. NPR appreciated the ‘slow burning’ quality of music and the emotional highs and lows. Forbes and The Rolling Stones magazines also included H.E.R. on their lists of artists to look out for.
In 2017, she released her sophomore EP titled ‘H.E.R. Vol 2’ which was also executively produced by Kehlani, K Michelle and Zhavia. One single from the album ‘Say it Again’ became particularly successful and the album peaked at the 7th spot in the Hot R&B chart.
A few months later she released the follow up to her second EP titled ‘H.E.R. Vol 2, The B Sides’, which was yet another success. But it failed to make it to the top 10 list of many charts like the previous EP did.
In August 2018, she released her fourth EP titled ‘I Used to Know Her: The Prelude’. Released by the label RCA records, the EP sales picked up an immediate pace and it made it to the US Billboard 200 chart where it peaked at the 20th spot. In the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop chart, the EP peaked at the 12th position. By that time, her fan following had grown exponentially. The album further topped the US R&B Chart.
She also toured around the United States with her songs. One of her notable stage performances took place during the 2017 BET Experience Concerts in Los Angeles. During the show, she performed along with major artists such as Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, Kid Kudi and Khalid.
She was 20 years old then and was leaving a strong mark in the industry with her soulful music that was combined with contemporary hip-hop. Most of the lyrics from her songs appealed to the youth as they were about the experiences of reeling from breakups and heartbreak.
In November 2018, H.E.R. released ‘I Used to Know Her: Part 2’, which was yet another successful EP which made its place on several American charts.
Apart from releasing her own EPs, she has also featured on other artists’ projects from time to time. She collaborated with Daniel Caesar for his single ‘Best Part’ which made it to the top of US Adult R&B Chart. The song was also certified Platinum by the RIAA.
Her songs have also appeared on soundtracks of many films and TV series’. In the second season of Netflix original series ‘Dear White People’, she featured with the song titled ‘Still Down’. In addition, she had also appeared on the soundtracks of films such as ‘Uncle Drew’ and ‘Superfly’ with songs ‘I Can Feel It’ and ‘This Way’ respectively.
In October 2017, she released her debut compilation album titled ‘H.E.R.’. The album comprised of some selected songs from her first two EPs along with six other fresh singles. It turned out to be her most successful venture yet and grabbed five Grammy Award nominations, including the award for ‘Best New Artist’ and ‘Album of the Year’.
H.E.R. has kept her past life and current personal life strictly under the cards. She believes that keeping her identity secret helps her maintaining a ‘lonely’ workflow while writing lyrics and working in the studios.
She also says that she does not care about the way she looks and the way she dresses. She prefers staying away from the limelight as she wants people to judge her only through her music.
She started playing music at a young age. She initially faced a little trouble as a ‘young black woman playing guitar’. But she overcame the hurdles and feels happy to have become an inspiration for the youth.