H.E.R. Got 5 Big Grammy Nominations. Her Tiny Desk Performance Shows Why

With the release of “Focus” and a fortuitous gift courtesy of Rihanna (who played the track in the background of an Instagram post to the tune of five-plus million hits), the mystery musician known simply as H.E.R. (Having Everything Revealed), became one of the most intriguing R&B artists in recent memory. Since being nominated for five Grammy Awards (“Album Of The Year,” “Best New Artist,” “Best R&B Song,” “Best R&B Album,” and “Best R&B Performance”), the Vallejo, California songbird returned to NPR Music’s Tiny Desk for a session that showcases her multiple talents.

Leading lady amidst a drummer, two backup singers (male and female), pianist and a bass guitarist, H.E.R. – whose government name is Gabriella Wilson – is the unmistakable center of attention to a band – Dream Come True – that clearly adores her.

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Armed with her customary sunglasses, Wilson begins the session with the upbeat interlude, “Going,” a fitting intro that sets the mood for a memorable live performance. “I feel like Tiny Desk is the best way to experience your favorite artist,” she says, before adding, “Not that I’m your favorite artist… but maybe me being here says a lot.”

The banter makes way for “Feel A Way,” which soon finds her backup singers harmonizing when cued by H.E.R.’s timely breaks. When they aren’t using their voices to enhance the experience, the duo calmly rocks back and forth, mouthing the words and sporting smiles that confirm their appreciation of H.E.R.’s remarkable gifts.

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When she comes out of “Feel A Way,” Wilson puts one guitar down for the favor of another, leading the band into the funky “Hard Place.” Around the 11:00-minute-mark, Wilson takes her time and eases out of the track into a timely band introduction. The break allows H.E.R. to change instruments yet again. This time she lays into the piano, reminding many why Alicia Keys comparisons are a real thing. Her commitment to the track is impeccable, as she hits every note, adjusting her shades every now and again.

Around the 16:00-minute-mark Wilson teases the audience with her melodious voice, before asking the band if they are up for increasing the tempo. This provides an opportunity for her and the background singers to harmonize, bouncing vocal improvisation to and fro, which might be mistaken for scatting in a different era.