'It’s Our Responsibility': R&B Artist Whitney H On Centering LGBT Voices Of Color
Charlotte native Whitney Hall is a self-described “trifecta:” a black lesbian woman who is proudly centered in communities of color, LGBTQIA+ and music. On the 50th anniversary of Pride’s Stonewall Uprising, amid nationwide demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism following the death of George Floyd, Whitney H shares her thoughts on faith, identity and how music can pave a way for progress.
"Musicians have been a unifying force in just about every movement that we’ve been taught in history. There was always a sound and an outcry through the music. We have the same responsibility. We’re alive in this time, and we’re artists in this time, so we have to be those voices."
On being raised in a musical family:
I was born in the church, so I actually grew up singing and playing instruments. But I began to pursue music professionally when my brother went to college for music engineering. I was kind of his studio guinea pig, if you will.
On my mother’s side of the family, pretty much everybody sings: my uncles, my aunt, my cousins. Everyone has a mastery of some instrument. I’m actually one of the only ones that doesn’t play the organ or piano. Music is very much a part of our heritage and upbringing.
On her first musical memory:
My first musical memory was in elementary school. I was either in third or fourth grade. I got to lead my first solo outside of church. I got to do the Mya part of the Rugrats movie song “Take Me There,” and that was everything for me! That was my debut. That was my moment. As a kid, I remember having to hold the microphone so tightly so no one could see my hand shaking. No one knew I was legitimately terrified, so I guess I was doing a good job of covering it up!
On contributing background vocals to renowned Jamaican musician Buju Banton:
That opportunity came about through my brother. While I was still in school, he was working in a studio here in Charlotte, and the guy who owned the studio was friends with Buju Banton. So he came into Charlotte and was recording in that studio, and my brother was the [studio] engineer at the time. My brother told him about [me], so one afternoon, I got dropped off at the studio. I had to have been in high school. It was a really cool song called “Rock You.” It was my first experience seeing how I could contribute to music even in the secular world, which was a transitional point for me.
On transitioning from sacred to secular music:
I grew up in a more traditional church, so you’re taught to render your gifts to God and to church first, so I felt like I had to fulfill a responsibility. As a person who loves versatility, [sacred music] felt very limiting to me as a singer as far as subject matter and style. There is definitely a divide [between secular and sacred music]. I was a praise and worship leader, and at one of the ministries, I was no longer allowed to be a worship leader because I was pursuing a career in secular music. So there does come a moment where a choice has to be made and you have to decide what you’re willing to sacrifice.
On the inspiration behind “Leave it Alone,” her original song entry for NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest:
When I was 19 and 20, I was actually very active here in Charlotte. I was doing shows, performing for the Queen City Awards and started making relationships with some people in radio. I caught the eye of the CEO of an independent label in Los Angeles, and we began communicating. I’m super driven, so I decided to “go for the gusto,” as my mom would say, so I actually moved to L.A. on Christmas Day, which was the ultimate rebellion because I had been telling my parents for months that I was going to California to pursue my music, get signed and be famous.
So I moved and started working with that label. Beyond creative differences, they were trying to create a certain image of who I was and the type of music that I was to create, and it was so contrary to who I am and the music that they even fell in love with in the first place. Their goal was to make me “the black Kelly Clarkson.” Like, I just don’t know where that idea came from! But of course, you’re eager and feel like you’re on your way to something, so I settled. That was my very first time settling when it came to my beliefs. I completely dropped everything to conform to what was being demanded of me. And that really hurt me. That changed a lot about me.
After a year and a half of working and not being paid by the label, I came back home and gave up music. I immersed myself back into church. It was a healing period. I didn’t even have the desire to be an artist because it felt like a burden. I eventually got back into music, and it’s because others around me have inspired me to not leave it. And that’s where “Leave it Alone” came from.
On being an LGBT artist of color in Charlotte:
I have a wife, and we are definitely part of the LGBT community here in Charlotte. I actually performed at several of the 2019 events for Charlotte Pride. It’s given me a community that is very supportive. I would say the most support that I have felt at gigs and shows have been among those who not only identify with my artistry but also who I am as a person.
There’s so much love in this city when it comes to LGBT community, especially among the black LGBT community. There’s a responsibility to being part of both of those communities. There’s oppression, discrimination and abuse happening in both communities. As far as being a musician, that’s one of the things that makes it so important for us to truly be creating out of our experience as we are [living through] now. Right now, it’s so important for music that inspires people to act, inspires people to be a part of something that is truly moving forward, comforts those people and unifies us.
I’m a trifecta: a lesbian black female. In some circles, I am all the things that you absolutely should not be. But I’m still going to be a person who contributes something that no one else could have.
Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:
Whitney H - “Leave it Alone”
Whitney H - “Be Good”
Whitney H - “I’mma Be Me”
DisMissedFit & General Spade - “Rise” feat. Whitney H and Chris Rivers
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