Editor’s Letter: H.E.R. and Dad Kenny Wilson’s Special Bond

H.E.R. and dad Kenny Wilson grace our June cover in an homage to the beauty of Black fatherhood and a celebration of Black Music Month. At just 24, the singer-songwriter born Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson has become one of the most prolific artists of her time. In addition to her four Grammys, the star added an Oscar to her resume for the 2021 song “Fight for You” from the “Judas and the Black Messiah” soundtrack, placing her halfway to the coveted EGOT (when an artist is awarded an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). Her musical roots run deep, and as we learn in meeting her father Kenny Wilson, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Wilson, who played music all his life, led the cover band Urban Bushmen in Vallejo, California, where H.E.R. was born and raised, and taught her music at a young age. “My grandmother played piano in the church,” Kenny says in his interview with writer Ronda Racha Penrice. “That’s why I said, ‘if I ever have kids one day, I’m going to raise them just like my grandparents raised me—playing music.’”

So he put her on to the greats—Mahalia, Marvin, Michael, Miles. Al, B.B., Jimi and Prince. A pianist, drummer, and guitarist who slays the electric, acoustic, and bass, the woman rocks out. So who better to highlight than this promising ingenue? And what greater way to tell her story than to go back to where it all started? So, we headed out west to shoot the Vallejo, CA native and her dad fresh off the heels of H.E.R.’s epic Grammys performance with rock royalty Lenny Kravitz. “If anyone knew what my life would look life today, it was my dad,” she says. “From watching Prince and Lenny Kravitz, to performing with Lenny Kravitz and those who were around Prince, my dad saw it all.”

“That’s the power of music. To bring people together and touch lives in ways that regular words cannot.”

Witnessing their kinetic bond on set and reading this month’s cover story got me thinking about my own daddy-daughter journey. Like H.E.R., I grew up immersed in music, learning piano and guitar. My dad and I bonded over our love of song and we frequented Broadway musicals and New York’s famed performance venues Jazz at Lincoln Center, Minton’s Playhouse, Blue Note and the now-defunct Jazz Standard.

On Saturdays we cleaned and cooked to the sounds of Jazz and Konpa. And weeks before he would lose his battle to cancer he shared his signature Diri Djon Djon (Haitian Black Rice) and Poule en Sauce (Haitian Chicken in Sauce) recipes to the soundtrack of Nemours Jean-Baptiste, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. They serenaded us on countless roadtrips and family gatherings and comforted us in his final days.

H.E.R. and dad Kenny Wilson
EBONY’s June cover Black Music Month and Father’s Day cover featuring H.E.R. and dad Kenny Wilson. (Photo by Keith Major)

Simply put, that’s the power of music. The ability to bring people together and touch lives in ways that regular words cannot. I hope that reading H.E.R. and dad Kenny Wilson’s beautiful story will touch you like it did me–whether it takes you down memory lane as you reminisce on the soundtrack of your life, moves you to do something special with the father or father figures who shaped you, or inspires you to connect with your own children through the arts.

Visit our June digital cover experience featuring H.E.R. and dad Kenny Wilson to learn more.

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