By Eugene Hung
This post is part of a series that will introduce 8Asians readers to some of this year’s V3 Digital Media Conference (V3con) honorees, speakers, panelists, and performers. The V3con Opening Awards Reception will be held on Friday, June 20, 2014 and the V3 Digital Media Conference will be held on Saturday, June 21, 2014 at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, Downtown Los Angeles.
The first time I heard of Judith Hill was in print, meaning my initial exposure to her performances came via photographs. So even though she has an incredible voice that powerfully expresses her depth of soul, and even though she has featured in the Oscar-winning 20 Feet from Stardom and on NBC’s The Voice, and even though she has backed Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Josh Groban, and most famously, Michael Jackson – I was taken by something else: her fantastic hair. Now, I probably appreciate plentiful and versatile hair more than most folks because I sport a chrome dome (not by choice). But it turns out, Judith herself recognizes that her hair has been significant in her life.
In a delightful video posted on her website, she talks with her Japanese mother about her hair. (Her parents met in Japan, where her mother Michiko played keyboard and her African American father Robert played bass for the 1970s funk group The Chester Thompson Band.) She says, “I’ve had a long journey with my hair. And it’s continuing; it’s not like it’s good now.” Because her mother was unfamiliar with African American hair, Judith explains, “I basically ended up having this small afro puff that just shot up and stayed there.” It was a challenging situation for them and for others; a classmate once complained to the teacher, “I can’t see the board because Judith’s hair is in the way!”
Her mother, on one occasion, tried to impose on Judith’s hair a Mickey Mouse-type look, as Michiko herself describes it. Judith thinks of it more as “Basically Deadmau5, but like, afro-Deadmau5.” Things came to a head in her teen years, after she relaxed her hair. Judith continues, “That’s when I realized I liked my natural hair better. I realized I wanted to embrace who I was. And after that, I just let it do its thing.” It became a personal step of self-love and acceptance. Judith recalls herself feeling, “Okay, this is what it is; this is who I am.” She concludes, “So my hair has had a long journey, along with my identity.”
Her embrace of her identity particularly shined through at a 2011 concert at Biola University, where she’d previously earned her degree in music composition. Originally planned as a free concert, it became a fundraiser after the Japanese tsunami and nuclear disasters. Judith told the Christian Post at the time, “Emotionally, it’s really close to home,” adding, “My message to Japan is to know that God loves them and that the whole world is keeping them in their thoughts and prayers.”
As she talks about the delights and challenges of having both Japanese and African American roots, Judith shows why she’s being honored with this year’s V3con Voice Award. She’s giving voice to Asian American issues, especially those that arise from having a multiracial heritage. She’s also giving courage to people who very much identify with her journey, helping them to embrace their own voices as well. Her first solo album drops this summer; let’s celebrate both that and her Voice Award this weekend at V3con!
Don’t miss your chance to register for the conference! Visit V3con.com/registration, where you can use the promo code “Partner-8Asians” (case sensitive) to receive access to the Pre-Registration: Partner Rate ($5 off General Admission) or the Full Registration: Partner Rate ($10 off General Admission, when available). But get on it; online registration closes TODAY!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A feminist dad, Eugene Hung is the new SoCal organizer for the Man Up Campaign, which advocates globally for gender equality and against gender-based violence. He writes for Asiance Magazine, which also hosts his blog, Raising Asian American Daughters.