American singer-songwriter H.E.R., whose Grammy-winning hit “I Can’t Breathe” became an anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement, says she is still amazed at the power of music to inspire, and likes to see young women of color pick up guitars.
Fresh from starring as Belle in a tribute to “Beauty and the Beast” for Disney, she has her big-screen film debut coming up in the musical “The Color Purple” – based on the Alice Walker novel that made stars of Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey when it was last filmed by Steven Spielberg in the 1980s.
Born Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, H.E.R. already has five Grammy Awards, a best song Oscar, and nearly two decades of experience performing – despite being only 25.
On Tuesday, she unveiled her latest guitar in collaboration with guitar-maker Fender: the H.E.R. Limited Edition Blue Marlin Stratocaster.
In an interview with Reuters, H.E.R., who has an African American father and a Filipina mother, said she hopes it can help inspire more women with backgrounds like her own.
Below are excerpts edited for length and clarity.
Q: What does getting your own Fender artist signature guitar mean to you?
H.E.R.: “I think a lot of women, especially young Black women, young Filipino women, don’t really think that these kinds of things are possible and I barely thought it was possible. So it’s insane to know that I’ve done it… It’s inspiring so many women to want to play instruments and want to pick up a guitar and know that they can… (The guitar is) called the Blue Marlin because I grew up going fishing with my dad a lot and I just think it’s one of the coolest looking fish.”
Q: How do you approach being a role model and knowing you can have such an impact on people, which is what happened with “I Can’t Breathe”?
H.E.R.: “Somebody told me ‘oh, ‘I Can’t Breathe’, I marched to that song’ or ‘My grandfather started thinking differently because he heard that song’ and I’m like, wow. It’s crazy how music can do that, but it’s also crazy that I can do that and I feel really grateful.”
Q: How old were you when you started making music?
H.E.R.: “I was five years old, six years old when I started playing piano and then I picked up the guitar not long after when I was seven, and he (H.E.R.’S father, musician Kenny Wilson) taught me how to play the blues… I started performing when I was like six years old. My first time being on stage was with my dad and his band and I remember my mom at one point kept booking like gigs for me, like there were festivals and things around the neighborhood.”
Q: What was making “The Color Purple” like?
H.E.R.: “I’m so grateful that that was technically like my first debut, officially working with Oprah and Spielberg is involved. It’s insane… We just had so much fun and the cast is amazing.”