H.E.R. is no stranger to the smooth whine of a guitar.
“I remember watching videos of Jimi Hendrixx, Prince, Lenny Kravitz and Eric Clapton. I wanted to be a rockstar after watching them and my dad,” the Grammy award-winning artist, born Gabriella Wilson, tells R29Unbothered “When I learned how to play guitar, I was like 6 or 7. I really looked up to my dad. He taught me.”
As a child, Wilson sang in her dad’s cover band. At age 10, she was asked to be a guest on the Today show, where she covered Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You." Then, two years after that, she landed her first record deal with Sony. She was (is) every little girl’s pop star dream come true, but when you look up at history’s music hall of famers, very rarely do you see women of color shredding frets.
“I know there’s a lot of women out there who play guitar, and we’re rare. You don’t see us too often,” she says. Which is why her partnership with Fender, the world's premiere guitar brand, is so groundbreaking. H.E.R. and Fender have collaborated on a capsule merch collection, which includes the signature Stratocaster the singer played at this year's Emmys. And together with us at R29Unbothered, she's giving away a merch kit to five lucky winners (hoodie, t-shirt, bucket hat, tote bag) along with a H.E.R. Signature Stratocaster.
Through this initiative, Wilson is among the many Black millennials reclaiming the rock and roll space. “I became the first Black women to have a collab with Fender and have my own stratocaster,” she says. “It was a dream of mine, so for it to become a reality is just really insane.” With two Grammys under her belt, it’s no surprise that Fender tapped her to make history.
The existence of contemporaries like Chloe x Halle’s Halle Bailey, Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, and singer Yuna creates a necessary, modern representation of what a guitar player can look like. “Hopefully this guitar will encourage more girls to pick up a guitar,” says Wilson — and honestly, we think it’s working.
Experts from Fender insist that the guitar players of today are more diverse than ever before. “Women continue to define the emerging guitar market, accounting for 50 percent of all beginner and aspirational players. African-Americans account for 19 percent of aspirational players, while Latin players make up 25 percent of beginners,” they share.
Diversity is power, and Wilson is excited to share her love of strings with everyone who will receive it. We caught up with H.E.R who spoke to us about her giveaway, her love for the guitar, and the influence the instrument has had on her as an artist.
Unbothered: Tell us about your new Fender. Who’s it for? Why them and why now?
H.E.R.: My new fender is unbelievably amazing. So excited that I did it. So thankful for the collaboration. My guitar is for everybody! The goal is to inspire. Hopefully this guitar will encourage more girls to pick up a guitar. But it’s for everyone. This iridescent glow in the light — I think anybody would wanna rock it on stage.
Tell me about when you learned guitar. What did it feel like back then?
The first thing I learned how to play was the blues. But that black and white strat was definitely the beginning of my relationship with the guitar.
How has playing had an impact on your life?
I love the guitar. I love piano,drums, and bass. I love playing instruments. But I think the guitar has just been a different way of expression. It’s been another voice. It’s been the instrument where I can show another side of me. It’s very electric. It’s very epic when I pick up the guitar. It’s also very emotional and I like to showcase that. I think people have been drawn to my music and live shows because of the guitar and the energy that it brings on the stage.
Yes, Black girl joy! Do you believe that joy is an act of resistance?
I think some people don't have a choice. But when it comes to choosing to do certain things on a daily basis, to not pay attention to the negative and to focus on the positive is very important. I think it can be an act of resistance because you can choose to react to something or you can choose to not give it any energy. I think joy is very powerful.
What words of inspiration do you have for creatives who aren’t feeling inspired right now?
Just write. Write everything you feel and everything that goes through your mind. All the anxiety and why you feel it and what’s going through your head and what might be blocking your creativity. But also live. Come back to yourself and live life and do what you have to do. Take a moment to breath. To find inspiration. Find it in the little things, and then come back to being creative and creating something.