"When Gabriella Wilson wanted to bring her guitar out on her first tour as H.E.R., she got some sideways looks. A young Black woman with a guitar? Singing R&B? In 2017? Kids aren’t gonna get it, people said. For Wilson, though, the gamble was the point: After all, if you don’t prove it can work, people will assume it won’t—especially if you’re a young Black woman. That it did work not only made Wilson a fresh voice in R&B, but a force in helping expand the roles available to any voice that doesn’t fit a familiar mold. Looking back, the guitar was a liability, but it was also a superpower. “That’s why I was able to stand out,” she told Apple Music in 2020. “Because I played, and I kinda didn’t take no for an answer.”
Born in 1997 and raised in the Bay Area city of Vallejo, California, Wilson got signed at 14—an experience that helped open her eyes to the ways artists are pressured and warped by the industry. Drawing on a spectrum of classics from Prince and Parliament through Whitney, Mariah, and Lauryn Hill, Wilson’s key tracks—“Focus,” “Slide,” “Slow Down,” “Could’ve Been”—helped codify what traditional, musically minded R&B could sound like in the 2010s and ’20s without ever feeling like a throwback. In 2018, Apple Music named her an Up Next artist; by 2019, she’d won a Grammy; in 2021, she won the Apple Music Award for Songwriter of the Year. For Wilson, it all comes down to confidence. “Sometimes you gotta make people listen,” she says. “You have to make people go, ‘Who is that?’”"
BORNJune 27, 1997