When she was 9 years old, Vallejo’s Gabi Wilson performed on one of the world’s most famous stages: the Apollo Theater in New York City. The budding superstar, better known today as H.E.R. (an acronym for Having Everything Revealed) sang Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love” during a kiddie version of Showtime at the Apollo.
Now, some 14 years later, she’s earned more pop culture honors, taking home multiple Grammys and an Oscar for Best Original Song for “Fight for You,” from the film Judas and the Black Messiah. Additionally, she sang “America the Beautiful” at the Super Bowl in February and had a small role in Yes Day, a Netflix movie starring Jennifer Garner. (After winning the Oscar while wearing a glamorous, Prince-inspired hooded cape and halter jumpsuit, H.E.R. told reporters, “There’s absolutely going to be an EGOT [Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards] in my future.”)
H.E.R. was raised by her Filipino mother and Black father in Vallejo, with an upbringing she describes as distinctly Filipino, though she identifies strongly as a Black woman: “I represent young Black women, and I’m proud of that.”
Music was ever-present in the home—her father rehearsed with his cover band in the living room; her mom introduced her to karaoke—and she wrote poetry and songs at an early age. Later, she honed her singing skills at various music festivals in Northern California, signed a major record label deal at 14, and made a splash on the national scene in 2016 with the R&B-flavored EP H.E.R., Vol. 1.
She’s stayed true to her East Bay roots throughout her successes, even curating her own music event, the Lights On Festival, in Concord in 2019. “Concord Pavilion is the ultimate venue. It is the perfect place to bring people from all over the Bay. I have many memories of watching shows and dreaming I’d be able to perform there. The Bay Area is my home. ... It’s a dream come true to host my festival there,” she said at the time. That same year, she hosted music students at the Oaktown Jazz Workshops, an Oakland nonprofit cultural organization.
More recently, H.E.R. featured locations in Vallejo and Oakland, including the Grand Lake Theatre, in the 2019 music video for her hit song “Slide.”
She is also hoping to inspire and help other young musicians with instruments and instruction through her Bring the Noise Foundation. As H.E.R. told WWD, “I just want to give back to the community that raised me now that I’ve gotten to a point where I can do that.”
The Lights on Festival returns to Concord on September 18 and 19, with headlining acts including Erykah Badu and H.E.R. and Friends. For more information about the line-up, visit lightsonfest.com.