Lauryn Hill

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Biography

One of the most highly regarded female artists of the late 1990s, singer Lauryn Hill rose to fame as a member of the hip-hop trio the Fugees, before achieving even greater acclaim with her 1998 solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She began singing as a youth before segueing into acting, most notably in "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit" (1993), which showcased her strong, supple vocal talents. But music became her focus after the …
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Job Title

Actor, Music

Born

May 26, 1975

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One of the most highly regarded female artists of the late 1990s, singer Lauryn Hill rose to fame as a member of the hip-hop trio the Fugees, before achieving even greater acclaim with her 1998 solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She began singing as a youth before segueing into acting, most notably in "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit" (1993), which showcased her strong, supple vocal talents. But music became her focus after the tremendous success of the Fugees' Grammy-winning second album, The Score (1996), which featured her take on the Roberta Flack classic "Killing Me Softly with His Song." At the height of the Fugees' popularity, Hill struck out on her own with Miseducation, which took its cues from classic soul, jazz and hip-hop for hit songs like the No. 1 single "Doo Wop (That Thing)." The record reaped five Grammys, establishing Hill as a major star, but she soon turned away from the music business, citing her distaste for its image-driven aspects. She would return sporadically to recording, most notably with MTV Unplugged 2.0 (2002), while maintaining a hermetic lifestyle marked by religious study. After nearly a decade of self-imposed exile, Hill resurfaced with new material in 2010, once again igniting hope from fans and the industry alike for a follow-up to her debut album. Despite her polarizing off-stage presence, Hill's best work underscored her standing as an exceptionally gifted and still-promising artist.

Born May 26, 1975 in South Orange, NJ, Lauryn Noelle Hill was the daughter of computer programmer Mal Hill and his wife, Valerie, an English teacher. Her childhood was steeped in music; both her parents and her older brother, Malaney, played instruments, and their home was filled with the sounds of their extensive record collection. Hill began singing at an early age, and made a public debut with a 1988 Amateur Night performance on "It's Showtime at the Apollo" (syndicated, 1987-2008). While attending Columbia High School in New Jersey, she became acquainted with aspiring musician Prakazrel "Pras" Michel, who recruited her for his hip-hop group, the Tranzlator Crew. Michel's cousin, Wyclef Jean, soon completed the trio, in addition to becoming Hill's boyfriend. During this period, Hill began her acting career with a recurring role on "As the World Turns" (CBS, 1956-2010). Bit parts in features like Steven Soderbergh's "King of the Hill" (1993) preceded her breakout screen role in "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit" (1993) as an aspiring school choir vocalist with a heavenly voice.

That same year, her group, which had recently changed its name to the Fugees, completed their debut album, Blunted on Reality, but a dispute with the record label, Ruffhouse, prevented its release for another year. The record was largely stillborn upon arrival, rising no higher than No. 62 on the Billboard albums chart. Hill soon shifted her attention to her education, enrolling at Columbia University, while taking occasional acting jobs on television. But the group reconvened for a second release just two years later, with decidedly different results. The Score (1996) rose to the top of both the album and R&B/Hip-Hop charts, buoyed by three hit singles - "Fu-Gee-La," "Ready or Not" and "Killing Me Softly," a revamp of the classic soul track "Killing Me Softly with His Song" that won the Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. The group's sound, which incorporated elements of rap, reggae, jazz and soul, won high praise from critics, and for a period, seemed to indicate that hip-hop was turning away from the harder-edged gangsta sound on which it had built a foundation since the late 1980s.

But as the Fugees established themselves at the vanguard of the music scene, both Hill and Jean stepped away from the act for their own solo careers. They had ended their frequently complicated relationship, and Hill had become involved with professional football player Rohan Marley, the son of reggae icon Bob Marley. Though married with children at the time, Hill and Marley soon began a family in 1997 with the birth of a son, Zion Marley. The Fugees remained inactive during this period, and Jean made use of the time by recording his solo debut, The Carnival Featuring the Refugee AllStars (1997). Though a smash hit, it was eclipsed a year later by Hill's own solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998), which resided at the top of the Billboard albums and R&B charts for over a month. A heady blend of classic soul, as evidenced by its chart-topping lead single "Doo Wop (That Thing)," hip-hop and other elements, it was largely produced, written and recorded by Hill herself. The singer further distanced herself from the Fugees camp by openly commenting on what she perceived as negative treatment by her bandmates, most notably on "I Used to Love Him," which detailed the collapse of her relationship with Jean.

By the following year, Hill was unquestionably one of the most popular female artists on the globe. Miseducation captured five Grammys, including Album of the Year - the most ever given to a woman by the Recording Academy. Record and concert ticket sales soared in the wake of her unparalleled success, as did media coverage, which placed her on the cover of major publications like TIME and Esquire. Hill soon set to work on a variety of projects, including a screenplay for a Bob Marley biopic that would feature her as his wife, Rita Marley. She also launched a number of charitable organizations, most notably the Refugee Camp, which played host to at-risk teens, and a number of well-building projects in Africa. In 1999, she was named among the "100+ Most Influential African-Americans" by Ebony magazine. But again, Hill began to distance herself from her career at the height of her popularity, though this time through extreme and often baffling decisions.

Feeling that her record label had too much control over her music and image, she fired her management team and stopped giving interviews, preferring to devote her time to her growing family with Marley, as well as daily Bible study under the direction of a spiritual leader named Brother Anthony. By 2000, she had dropped out of public view altogether, citing her need to step away from the public image of Lauryn Hill that had been manufactured in order to find her true self. The following year, she emerged from self-imposed exile to give fans a preview of her new musical direction with an acoustic performance on MTV Unplugged (MTV, 1989- ). On the broadcast and its follow-up album, MTV Unplugged 2.0 (2002), Hill's voice and emotional state both seemed on shaky ground, with the singer breaking into tears on several occasions during the concert while speaking about her personal struggles. Critics were sharply divided on the record, which took a 360-degree turn from the radio-friendly Miseducation to focus on stark, confessional songs about gaining independence and personal self-worth. Despite the sea change, MTV Unplugged 2.0 still managed to debut at No. 2 on the albums chart and net a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Single for "Mystery of Iniquity."

The goodwill generated towards Hill's new musical path seemed to dry up to a degree in the years immediately following her return to the business. In 2003, she was criticized after denouncing the Catholic Church's history of handling child abuse at the hands of priests during a Christmas concert at the Vatican before high-ranking church officials. The following year, she rejoined the Fugees for a string of concert appearances that carried over into 2005, but old tensions between group members soon ended the reunion. Both Jean and Michel cited Hill's chronic lateness before concerts and her request to be addressed as either "Ms. Hill" or, reportedly, "Empress" by all involved as the key factor in the collapse of the effort. During this period, her label, Columbia Records, paid Hill $2.5 million to complete her second solo album, but aside from the singles "The Passion" (2004) and "Lose Myself" (2007), no new material surfaced for the next half-decade. Hill continued to give sporadic concert appearances, but her erratic behavior frequently resulted in audience walkouts.

However, by the end of the decade, Hill appeared to refocus her interest on a musical career. She released several new tracks, including the single "Repercussions" and a duet with Ronald Isley on the Carpenters' tune "Close to You" in 2010. She also began revisiting her Fugees and Miseducation material in concerts, as well as new songs which were warmly received by fans. Her complex relationship with Marley, with whom she had given birth to five children while referring to him as her husband, despite no legal marriage between either party, appeared at an end in 2011 following the birth of a sixth child by a different father. The following year, she was charged with failure to file federal income tax returns between 2005 and 2007. In late July of that year, she pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to file returns on more than $1.8 million in income derived primarily from film and music royalties. After issuing a rambling statement in which she claimed to have deferred the payments in order to shelter her family from a "media-protected military-industrial complex," Hill was released on $150,000 bail with permission to leave the country for a music tour on the condition that she also undergo mental health counseling. Sentencing was set for Nov. 27, 2012, with each count carrying a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

By Paul Gaita

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