Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch Series,” Lilith Fair Edition, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
In 1997, Sarah McLachlan gathered a folksy coven of women singer-songwriters for a summer of girl power awesomeness called Lilith Fair. While some now think of Lilith Fair with gentle mocking—a utopia of calico feminism that was even parodied on Saturday Night Live—the festival’s first iteration was a music industry revolution. As the biggest all-female festival ever in a male-dominated industry.
Lilith Fair came back the second year with a lineup that was much more diverse, racially and musically. You might even consider it legendary. To read the lineup now is to marvel that this was pulled off even then (bearing in mind, not every artist played every city): Lauryn Hill, whose groundbreaking The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was released at the end of that summer; Erykah Badu; Bonnie Raitt; Missy Elliott, at the peak of her collaboration with Timbaland; Sinead O’Connor; Liz Phair; Lucinda Williams; Queen Latifah; the Indigo Girls; Natalie Merchant; Suzanne Vega; Meredith Brooks; Joan Osborne; Shawn Colvin; Lisa Loeb; Me’Shell Ndegeceollo; and more. (Full disclosure, I went. It was unreal.)
Lauryn Hill was born in East Orange, New Jersey, but her family would eventually settle in South Orange, where she would meet a fellow future star: actor Zach Braff.
Hill immersed herself in Motown and R&B at a young age when she discovered her mom’s old vinyl’s in the attic. She began singing in earnest at age 7 when her mom took her to see a production of Annie. After that, she drove her family crazy by singing the show’s tunes non-stop.
At age 12, Hill competed on the amateur portion of It’s Showtime at the Apollo, singing the Miracles’ “Who’s Lovin’ You.”
Hill met her Fugees bandmates, Prakazrel Michel and his cousin Wyclef Jean, when she was just 13.
Moviegoers may remember Hill from her role in Sister Act II: Back in the Habit, but she also had a stint on the CBS soap opera As the World Turns (playing Kira Johnson) and played a gum-chewing elevator operator in the period drama King of the Hill, starring Jesse Bradford and Adrien Brody.
Hill wrote much of the material for her debut album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, while pregnant with her first child, Zion David, with Rohan Marley (Bob Marley’s son). She credits the pregnancy for re-igniting her creativity: “I had the desire to write in a capacity that I hadn’t done in a while. I don’t know if it’s a hormonal or emotional thing… I was very in touch with my feelings at the time.” She added: “Every time I got hurt, every time I was disappointed, every time I learned, I just wrote a song.”
Hill made the 1999 Grammy Awards a night of firsts. With her five Grammy wins for her debut album: Best New Artist, Best R&B Song, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Album and Album of the Year – she became the first woman to win five Grammy Awards in the same night, beating Carole’s King’s record of four. She was also the first woman to earn ten nominations in one year, and the album was the first hip-hop record to win Album of the Year.
Years before stardom came knocking, Hill featured in MC Lyte’s 1991 Off-Broadway hip-hop rendering of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. She also appeared that same year as an extra in the video for the female rapper’s “Poor Georgie.”
The Recording Industry Association of America announced on February 16, 2021 that The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill had gone Diamond after selling over 10 million copies in the US. This meant Lauryn Hill made history as the first female rapper to achieve that feat.