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5 things you need to know about Fil-Am Grammy winner H.E.R.

By PINKY S. ICAMEN Published Mar 16, 2021 9:10 am

Fresh from a two-Grammy win, H.E.R. continues to slay and shows no signs of stopping.

The 23-year-old Fil-Am singer won at the recently concluded Grammy Awards with Song of the Year for her I Can’t Breathe track (which was inspired by the death of George Floyd that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement), and Best R&B Song for Better Than I Imagine with Robert Glasper and Meshell Ndegeocello.

Even before the celebratory air dissipated, it was announced today that she earned her first Oscar nomination for Best Original Song for Fight For You from the movie Judas and the Black Messiah. The same song also got her nominated early this year for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes.

Before all the accolades, H.E.R., whose real name is Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, started her career on a mysterious note in 2016 when she released her eponymous album with only seven songs, no biography, and only a woman’s silhouette for an album cover.

There was a buzz on who this mysterious artist was and with the palpable energy of her music, even A-listers including Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Drake, Jamie Foxx and Janet Jackson were enthralled.

In 2019, she made waves when she was nominated for five Grammys and won two of them—Best R&B Album for her eponymous album, and Best R&B Performance for the song Best Part with Daniel Caesar.

Beyond being a multi-talented artist, H.E.R. advocates for racial equality and women empowerment, among other causes.

So, H.E.R. is now on your radar. Here are five things you need to know about this Grammy-winning Fil-Am artist.

She is in tune with her Filipino heritage

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H.E.R. was born and raised in Vallejo, California to an African American father Ken Wilson, who works in construction and a musician, and a Filipino mother, Agnes Sarmiento, who is a nurse and hails from Nueva Ecija.

She grew up in the Bay Area, where she has a good foundation and support system. H.E.R. said in an interview that being Filipino there is “dope,” as the community is supportive of everything she does.

In an interview with Rappler, H.E.R. revealed that she has visited her mother’s hometown and had a big vacation in the Philippines in December 2019 (by checking her Insta feed, she posted a clip of her by cerulean waters, which could very well be in the Philippines).

Speaking with Genius, H.E.R. said she is comfortable with her own skin and the struggles of growing up “too Filipino for black kids and too black for Filipino kids” made her embrace who she is and inspired her to not get in a specific mold.

She was a child prodigy

H.E.R., then billed as Gabi Wilson, at 10 years old performing on The Today Show.

She started singing in her father’s cover band, and then learned several instruments before reaching the age of 10. A straight-A student, she also wrote a book titled Anything on Earth Poems and was published when she was 10 years old.

As a child, she gained national attention when she made rounds on shows like The View, the Maury Povich Show, and The Today Show, where she played the piano and sang Alicia Keys’ hit If I Ain’t Got You, which showcased her already rich and soulful voice. She was often compared to Alicia Keys, who is classically trained and has been writing songs since she was 12 years old.

She also guested in a show in The Filipino Channel, where she sang Maging Sino Ka Man by Sharon Cuneta. In her TFC guesting, one of the hosts asked her how she sees herself five to 10 years from that time. H.E.R. answered, “Hopefully a big musician.” (She definitely manifested it!)

When she was 12 years old, she joined Radio Disney’s The Next Big Thing contest but lost. One of her big breaks came when she was signed into Sony Music when she was 14 years old.

She is a multi-instrumentalist

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When she was 11 years old, H.E.R. was called one of the most talented kids in America. It is not only because of her soulful voice but also because she plays several instruments at a very young age.

She plays the piano, drums, and electric, acoustic and bass guitar, which she has mastered through the years.

“Playing guitar is part of who I am, since I was a kid,” she told Rolling Stone.

“I remember watching a video of Lenny Kravitz and Prince (from the Rave Un2 the Year 2000 concert) when I was a kid. That video changed my life—it made me want to play guitar just because of how rock star it is.”

Her creative influences came from her parents’ diverse taste in music—from Whitney Houston to Jimi Hendrix

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Music has always been around H.E.R.’s life, with her father having a band and instruments just lying around the house, it wasn’t long until she picked them up and played them herself. 

In an interview with Genius, H.E.R. said it was her parents who exposed her to a wide array of songs. Her mother, just like most Filipinos, love ballads like those of Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and Whitney Houston. With her father, it was Prince, James Brown, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, rock, pop, R&B, blues, and Parliament-Funkadelic.

She gave a special shout out to Whitney Houston, who she said inspired her to “have emotion, perform a certain way." 

The stage name H.E.R. stands for “having everything revealed”

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Being known as a child prodigy, H.E.R. had to live up to a lot of expectations like the trajectory of her career. After dabbling in acting and releasing an album, she ditched the Gabi Wilson name to adopt a new persona. And with this, she wanted her music to take front and center for people to focus on.

“I reveal who I am and my stories and my emotions, and music is an outlet for me. But it’s all revealed through my music and my message. Even though I don’t show my face and I don’t tell people who I am or more about me, it’s—really, you get to know who I am in my music,” she said in a radio interview in 2018.

She also revealed in an interview with James Corden in The Late Late Show that H.E.R., which stands for “having everything revealed,” is an ironic moniker for someone who’d rather remain unknown.

“The best way for me to release my music was to be honest and in order for me to do that, I said ‘let me not put my face and name in my music, and just give my music just the way it is. A pure message and keep it like that, that’s all you can see, HER.”

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