Lauryn Hill is a singer, songwriter and actress who shot to fame in the 1990s with her R&B band “The Fugees” and later as a solo performer. She was born on May 26, 1975 in New Jersey to Valerie and Mal Hill. Her mother was an English teacher and her father was a management consultant. Hill grew up surrounded by music – her father sang at local nightclubs and her mother played piano. She grew up listening to the greats like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. She began to sing during her school years and was a go-getter from the start. She was a member of the track and cheerleading team, took violin and dance lessons, and founded the school’s gospel choir.
Hill took acting lessons during her childhood and began her acting career in 1991 in an off-Broadway production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”. During this performance, she was noticed by an agent who got her a role on the television soap opera “As the World Turns”. In 1993, she was cast in the hit movie “Sister Act 2” alongside Whoopi Goldberg for which she also performed the songs “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” and “Joyful, Joyful”. She also had a small but important role in Steven Soderbergh’s 1993 film “King of the Hill” for which she received praise from critics. The same year she graduated from high school.
During her high school years, Hill formed a band with her friend Prakazrel Michel and his cousin Wyclef Jean. The band was initially named “Tranzlator Crew” but the name was later changed to “The Fugees” which was a derived from the word “refugee” – a deprecating title given to Haitian-Americans. The band signed an album deal with Columbia/Ruffhouse Records in 1993 and released their first album titled “Blunted on Reality” in 1994. The album reached No. 62 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, but did not achieve very high sales overall. However it helped to highlight Hill’s talent as a singer, particularly the song “Some Seek Stardom” which is often praised as the album’s best single.
The Fugees released their second album in 1996. It was titled “The Score” and it was a phenomenal success, reaching No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 charts and staying in the top 10 list for over 6 months. It went platinum 6 times over in the U.S. and sold 17 million copies worldwide. It won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album and was also included on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It was written and produced by Wycelf Jean, who was also dating Hill at the time. Some of the most memorable songs on the album were “Fu-Gee-La”, “Ready or Not” and “No Woman, No Cry”. The best celebrated and most successful track was undoubtedly a cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Killing Me Softly” which won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. The band was praised for breaking away from the “gangsta rap” genre and having positive and socially conscious lyrics.
The Fugees split in 1997, and Hill took her career solo. The next year she released her album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and was certified 8X platinum in the U.S. At the 1999 Grammy Awards, Hill was nominated for record breaking 10 awards in one ceremony and became the first woman to win 5 awards in a night, which were Album of the Year, Best R&B Album, Best R&B Song, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best New Artist. Her fame led her to be featured on the cover of several influential magazines, including Time magazine, making her one of the few African Americans to be featured on the cover at the time. In 2001, she released her next album “MTV Unplugged No. 2.0” which sold less than 500,000 copies in the U.S. and was disparaged by critics and fans alike.
Lauryn Hill is a dedicated activist and has started an organization called the “Refugee Camp Youth Project” which raises money for underprivileged children. She has five children, four with her boyfriend Rohan Marley, (son of Bob Marley) and one from a previous relationship. In 2013, she served a 3 month prison sentence for tax evasion charges to which she pleaded guilty. Despite her career and personal ups and downs, she is recognized as one of the most iconic, genre defining singers of our times.