I was lucky enough to see Judith Hill perform during the 2010 convention in Los Angeles of the Asian American Journalists Association, when she played a set for opening night. Hill had a unique story as a performer: The daughter of an African American father and Japanese mother who are both professional musicians, she earned a degree in music composition. She woodshedded in France in 2007. Hill’s professional breakthrough was supposed to be as Michael Jackson’s duet partner for the “This Is It” tour.
Yes, that’s the tour that never happened because of Jackson’s sudden death in June 2009.
Although she was unknown at the time, Hill caught the attention of the world when she sang the lead on “Heal the World” during Jackson’s televised memorial service. Her remarkable talent as a singer was also showcased in the October, 2009 release of the film “This Is It” documenting the rehearsals for the tour.
I know it’s several months late, but I didn’t see a lot of sites spreading this around. Back in 2007, after the prison in Cebu, Philippines started using dance as a way to rehabilitate its prisoners by having them participate in a group creative endeavor and letting them perform for visitors, a video of the inmates grooving in the prison yard to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” became a runaway sensation on YouTube — as of this writing, there are a mind-boggling 34,505,236 views and counting.
They’ve danced since then to rock, classical, R&B and Filipino music. The prison’s security consultant, Byron F. Garcia, the man who came up with the idea, even has a byronfgarcia YouTube channel where he shares the prisoners’ awesome performances.
But the coolest and most moving of them might be the above 10-minute tribute to Michael Jackson, which was choreographed and rehearsed in a 10-hour-straight session after the prisoners heard about his death, and performed performed on June 27 (Jackson died June 25 in the U.S., but it was June 26 in the Philippines by then).
It’s a testament to Garcia’s progressive thinking on rehabilitating criminals, that these men (and some women, who are in a separate wing) can pull together and create what are essentially great performance art. Back in 2007, on the video of the Pointers Sisters’ “Jump,” Garcia notes, “This is a tribute to all Prison facilities in the Philippines (8 and counting) who are now adopting this non-violent approach to rehabilitation! Thank you, inmates deserve a second chance! If we make prisons a living hell for them, then we might just be sending out devils once they are released. Cruel methods to achieve discipline are a thing of the past! So, keep on dancing!”
Here’s a video that was coincidentally uploaded to YouTube by singer-songwriter David Choi, whose stuff I like very much, on June 23, just two days before Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop” suddenly and shockingly died. (It’s the third-listed link on You Tube when you search for “Michael Jackson.”)
“Ben” is an unusual choice for a Michael Jackson cover — a moody, plodding story-song that makes sense as a story only if you know it as the title song from a 1972 horror B-movie about a boy (not the young MJ) who befriends a pet rat named “Ben” who leads a pack of vicious killer rats. It was the sequel to the equally cheesy (no pun intended, honest) 1971 movie, “Willard.”