Hannah Williams, the British soul hurricane who sensationally became part of Jay-Z’s chart-topping 4:44 album, is primed and ready for her own national and international breakthrough.
Born in High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, Williams’ father was a musically gifted minister, and her mother let her join the church choir at the age of six. Hannah could read music before she could properly read words, and when she discovered soul by listening with her mum to Motown and Bill Withers, there was no turning back.
After a 2012 debut with her previous band the Tastemakers, it was 2016’s Late Nights & Heartbreak that announced the arrival of Hannah Williams and the Affirmations. But little did she know that Jay-Z was listening. One day, at her then-day job running the music department at the University of Winchester, he sent her a text.
Once she’d established that it wasn’t a wind-up, and summoned the courage to call him back, she learned that JayZ’s producer, No I.D., had played him Hannah’s track to inspire his response to Beyoncé’s Lemonade, on which she sang of his infidelities.
What followed was a year of the band’s widest-ever touring including an invitation to perform at Central Park Summer Stage NY, Toronto Jazz Festival and Brooklyn Bowl NY and expanded audiences in continental Europe where she and the Affirmations had already made a mark. Then came the burning determination to make the record of their lives. The captivating 50 Foot Woman is that album, produced by Shawn Lee, a respected presence on the funk/soul scene whose credits include Amy Winehouse, Lana Del Rey and Alicia Keys. Lee has released five solo albums as Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra on San Francisco label Ubiquity Records and is also one half of the cool melodic pop duo Young Gun Silver Fox.
Now the world will hear what the cognoscenti have known for a while: that Hannah Williams is the real deal, and sings from her very soul. “I feel like my performance comes from my solar plexus,” she says. “The emotional side of it is so intrinsic; I can’t take it away from what I do.”