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  • Kimberley Guillemet

World Changer of the Month — February 2023: Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Noelle Hill was born on May 26, 1975, to parents Valerie Hill, an English teacher, and Mal Hill, a computer and management consultant. She grew up in South Orange, New Jersey. From an early age, Hill was fascinated by music. At age 13, she appeared as a contestant on Showtime at the Apollo. With the support of her parents, she pursued singing and acting professionally in her early teens, appearing on local television and auditioning for film roles in nearby New York City.

In high school, she formed the hip hop group The Fugees with Pras Michel and Wyclef Jean. While serving as a songwriter, lead vocalist and rapper for the group, Hill continued to pursue her acting career. At age 17, she played a recurring role on the daytime television drama As the World Turns. The following year, she appeared in a prominent singing role in the feature film Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Hill excelled academically and earned admission to Columbia University. In her freshman year after The Fugees signed a record contract, Hill left Columbia to concentrate on her performing career.

The Fugees released their first album in 1994, and their second, The Score, in 1996, which was an immediate sensation upon release, shooting to the top of the Billboard 200 and the R&B charts. The album included three hit singles; the biggest was Lauryn Hill’s version of “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” a ballad made famous in the 1970s by singer Roberta Flack. The song went to Number 2 on the U.S. Singles chart (Number 1 in Britain), and brought the group a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance of the Year. In its first year of release, The Score sold six million copies.

In 1998, Hill produced and released her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The album topped the Billboard 200 chart for four weeks and the Billboard R&B Album charts for six weeks, ultimately selling 19 million copies. Of the five singles released from the album, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard charts. At the 1999 Grammy Awards, Hill broke a number of records, becoming the first woman to be nominated in ten categories in a single year, and the first woman to win five trophies in one night: Album of the Year, Best R&B Album, Best R&B Song, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best New Artist.

By the end of 1999, two years into her solo career, her record sales and touring had earned her an estimated $25 million. In addition to her own performing schedule, she served as co-producer of Carlos Santana’s Supernatural, and won a second Grammy Award for Album of the Year. She is the only female artist to win the Album of the Year award in two consecutive years.

At the height of her success, Lauryn Hill surprised the music world with her decision to withdraw from performing and seclude herself with her growing family.

Outside of her performance career, Hill is a dedicated activist. She founded an organization dedicated to serving underprivileged urban youth called the Refugee Camp Youth Project. The organization raises money to send children from Hill's native New Jersey to summer camp.

In 2012, Hill faced personal and professional tumult which resulted in criminal charges being filed against her. These past challenges notwithstanding, Hill has displayed tremendous grace and resilience. She is often regarded as one of the most influential musicians of her generation. In 2021, she was among the inaugural nominees for the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame.


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