If you’re one of the people who really only tune into the Super Bowl to stay on top of the inevitable controversy surrounding the musical performances, then you probably caught H.E.R.’s pre-game rendition of “America the Beautiful.” While the 23-year-old singer-songwriter may be an R&B chart staple, she remains relatively unknown to mainstream audiences.
So, who is H.E.R.?
Born Gabi Wilson and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she was first introduced to the public as a child, appearing on the Today Show, Good Morning America, The View, Radio Disney’s The Next BIG Thing, and Maury. At 14, she signed with RCA Records/HBK Entertainment, releasing her first single, “Something to Prove” under her real name.
In 2016, Wilson re-emerged as the enigmatic persona H.E.R., which, ironically, stands for Having Everything Revealed. In a press release that accompanied an early stream of her debut EP, H.E.R. Vol. 1, RCA wrote, “I can’t tell you much about H.E.R. just yet but give it a listen and let me know what you think.” It didn’t take long for internet sleuths to piece together her real identity, but, by then, the stage had already been set for H.E.R.’s breakout.
But why adopt the H.E.R. persona?
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she said that the name came out of a messy break-up, “I remember saying I’ll never be that girl, I’ll never be that girl that falls for the wrong guy. I was constantly criticizing that girl and eventually I found myself being that girl, being her.”
She would elaborate on this concept in an interview with Toronto Now, “You can’t avoid heartbreak, you can’t avoid a lot of things. You have to go through them in order to become the person you’re going to be. So, being H.E.R. is just the evolution of being a woman,”
At the end of the day, adopting the stage persona of H.E.R. was a step in maintaining her artistic agency. As she explains to NPR, “I feel like this is the era of the anti-star. I really just wanted it to be about the music, and get away from, ‘Who is she with?’ and ‘What is she wearing?’”
While H.E.R. Vol. 1, was released to positive reception and a good amount of buzz from her fellow recording artists, it was the release of the album H.E.R, a compilation of her first three EPs, that was her critical breakthrough. She would go on to win Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance for “Best Part (w/ Daniel Caesar)” and receive three other nominations, including Album of the Year, Best New Artist and Best R&B Song, at the 61st Grammy Awards.
Since her 2019 win, H.E.R. has been nominated for 8 additional Grammy Awards, and, most recently, a Golden Globe for Best Original Song for “Fight For You” from the drama Judas and the Black Messiah.
Late last year, H.E.R. teamed up with LG for the “Life’s Good Music Project”, a competition that sought to elevate the profile of up-an-coming talent by offering them the chance to collaborate on a track with H.E.R..
On why she chose to be a part of this project, she told Rolling Stone, “It’s a good opportunity for young creatives. I was once somebody who really wanted my art to be heard, so I thought this is really cool. I love writing songs and helping other people like me be creative and have an outlet to express themselves.”
She continues, “For me, especially this year with everything going on and not really having control of what happens next, you just have to say, ‘Life is good because I’m alive, and I could not be, because I’m healthy, and I could not be. I’m living my dream, or I’m trying to make my dreams come true,’ and you have to enjoy the process.”
In addition to her singing talents, H.E.R. plays a number of instruments, including electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar and drums. It’s her skill with the guitar that ultimately inspired the H.E.R Stratocaster by Fender, which she played during her Super Bowl performance. More than just a pretty guitar, the collaboration made H.E.R. the first black female artist in the guitar-maker’s 74-year history to have a signature guitar.
In a statement from the guitar manufacturer, H.E.R. said, “My father taught me how to play my first blues scale on a mini black-and-white Strat, so it’s absolutely surreal I have partnered with Fender to design my own Signature Stratocaster. As an artist, I find that my most personal thoughts make the most relatable music. By designing a Stratocaster with a color, shape and sound that is one-hundred-percent my own, my hope is that other young women and players from all backgrounds feel inspired to pick up this guitar, tap into their thoughts, and create amazing music.”
The guitar, which features an alder body finished in an iridescent Chrome Glow color, comfortable “C” shape neck, Fender Vintage Noiseless single-coil pickups, and anodized aluminum pickguard, is as sleek, bold and mysterious as the artist who inspired it.
Learn more about H.E.R., her signature Fender Stratocaster, and the state of women in the music industry in Interstate Music Albums: Backstage Edition.