“I may as well have come out of the womb with a Power fist and a picket sign”: Miss Toni Hill interviews with In Other Words
The amazingly talented and effervescent artist Miss Toni Hill will be performing at In Other Words! She graciously agreed to sit down with us at In Other Words and talk about her work.
I have been involved in the performing arts since I was young. I was the kid, singing “bringing home a baby bumble bee” in full voice with a costume and rounding up all the neighbor kids for a performance in the living room. In elementary school I started dancing and playing clarinet. In middle school I added gospel choir & theater; by high school musical theater, dance, martial arts, television production, choir and modeling were all on my roster. In 1993 I won the Zora Neal Hurston literary award for my collection of poetry and short stories. I was on track to NYU after graduating high school but life had other plans for me. It wasn’t until around 1997 or 1998 I decided to pursue music professionally.
How did you wind up with a career in Portland Oregon?
Although I have lived many other places including a short stint in Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York, the northwest is home. I grew up between Portland and Seattle so they both have been home base from the beginning. My professional career began in Portland, my first recordings and shows were done right here in the beautiful city of thorns. My album “Only Love” was recorded and released in Seattle.
You have a reputation as an artist who is always looking for ways to give back to her community– tell me about that.
My father O.B Hill Sr. is a local historian, fellow PSU graduate, activist, entrepreneur and singer who at one time owned the only black bookstore in town. My grandmother Evelyn Buchanan among many other things was a civil rights activist. She had me holding Mondale and Ferraro signs, helping out at El Centro De La Raza and marching with Jesse Jackson as a child. Then there are ties to the Black Panther party from my uncle’s participation, most of my friends deal in social justice, community organizing, youth outreach or something to do with social change. I may as well have came out of the womb with a power fist and a picket sign. So any chance I get to spread the love around, I am blessed to be in a position to do so.
Your song “Rose” is about a young girl who is heartbroken by an absent father.
Yes. “Rose” is a song about a young woman whom grew up with an absent father and later tends to attract men in her life that aren’t engaged or committed in the relationship. She feels emptiness and realizes why she has made poor choices in relationships trying to fill the void her father left behind. I got the idea from my own life being raised by my stepfather, stories I have heard over the years from friends and family and looking at some of the social ills that unfortunately affect the African American community far more than I see in other cultures. It is loosely based off two stories in particular. One of which the estranged parent promised the young man he would come to see him on Christmas. Although his mother cautioned him that daddy probably wasn’t going to come, he sat in the window all day until nightfall waiting for a father who never arrived. I was drawn to tears learning this because the guy telling the story is an awesome parent and a wonderful musical talent. I was honored that he chose to share his truth with me. I wanted to try to heal some wounds in us all with that song and I can only hope to have even scratched the surface.
How has this song touched/impacted our local communities? What sort of responses have you received?
To be honest I was surprised at the amount of men, both young and old that reached out to me to share their experiences and thank me for writing that song. They said they identified so much with it and a few said they made sure they were in their children’s lives so the cycle could be broken. I was very proud and grateful. My YouTube video had a lot of very supportive comments on there too. I was especially happy because the director chose that song out of all my other compositions on the record. He was deeply moved by it in such a way he wanted to film it.
Would you consider yourself a feminist activist? How so?
I identify with feminism. I am an activist. I advocate on behalf of women’s, children’s, and men’s rights. Social justice, social change, community organizing, youth empowerment, equal housing opportunity, ending racism, sexism and all kinds of other
isms, all of these things are important to me but I cannot say I am simply a feminist activist. I am so multi faceted that title would be in the line up alongside a long list of others including “women warrior”, an endearing term used by my close friend and fellow hip Hop artist Gabriel Teodros.
What sorts of projects are you working on right now?
I am super excited about up coming projects. I am working on getting more shows booked too. I am working on a release party for my newest group release by Sirens Echo entitled “Supa Soul Sistas” and I am putting together a Jazz album.
Are you collaborating with any other artists?
I love collaborating. I actually keep my career afloat by featuring on other people’s projects while mine is still in infant stage. Everything is in planning phase so I am only reaching out to people who I think I want to work with. I can’t really name -drop just yet! But my local wish list would include Tony Ozier, Beau Bryan and Virginia Lopes.
When is your next performance?
My next few performances are all in the month of October. Starting with a benefit concert October 5th at fortune Star Lounge for Howard Stiff, a terminally ill cancer patient. Then October 11th I will be performing at the 19th birthday party for In Other Words. Woo Hoo! Gonna be a blast! I enjoyed myself so much last year [at the 18th birthday party]. Lastly, I have a gig in Seattle October 13th at The Royal room.
How can people get involved in following your work and supporting your music?
There are several ways to support my music and get involved. You can check me out on BGirlMedia, Twitter, MySpace, and YouTube. Also, I need up-and-coming or established writers, publicists, photographers, computer techs, web designers, clothing designers, make up artists, hairstylist, producers etc. We can collaborate, we can barter, and we can hang out, whatever. I just want to continue to build community and accomplish my goal of releasing a new solo record and starting a new group effort by summer 2013. Other ways to support are to use social networks to spread the good word. If you like my music or performance and want to record me and post it, lets do it! If you’re a film student and you never shot a music video, let’s give it a whirl. There are just so many ways to help. My mom used to have bake sales to help pay for studio time. Perhaps you have always wanted to try your marketing ideas out but don’t have a project, well take me on as a project and see what we can come up with. If you need songs for your event or school project I can check my catalog and see if we can work together. I don’t have all the details now but in November or December I plan on hosting a fundraiser event for my group Sirens Echo to participate in an international music conference/festival in April 2013 called New Skool Rules. So please reach out and help me in any way you can think of.
I just want to extend my gratitude to In Other Words and wish you a beautiful, fun filled, money-raising good time at the birthday party.
We are just so honored to hear her perform at our 19th anniversary celebration/fundraiser on October 11th 2012. You can buy your advance tickets at In Other Words, and RSVP on Facebook!