Opening the three-day Black Girls Rock festival, the Kennedy Center presented iconic singer-songwriter Lauryn Hill alongside D.C. artist Alice Smith for a celebratory music performance.

Hill, who has garnered Grammys and international acclaim over her storied career, is still touring from her lone solo studio album, 1998’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” Today, Hill maintains the same level of loyalty from diverse backgrounds, as the Kennedy Center filled seats for her first-night performance.

“I grew up in the ’80s and the ’90s,” Hill told the crowd. “So when it was time for me to make a recording of my own, I obviously wanted to take this beautiful blend, this classic soul tradition that was poured into me, and I wanted to combine it with the hip-hop music of my generation. And the intention was to make a classic — a soulful classic for my people, for my time, that helped to raise generations and communicate, bring us together

Hill took the stage at 10 p.m. in a sparkling, sequined suit. As she has been apt to do while touring lately, she selectively covered some of her original pieces with a rock-based flair.

A few attendees made mention of the marked difference between the live versions of some of her classics in comparison to the studio recordings. Hill’s performance opened with alternative variations of her best-known songs, giving a different texture to her music.

“She is one of my favorite musical artists, so watching her perform live for the first time in my life was an exciting opportunity,” said attendee and longtime fan Brandon Brown. “But something was missing. Maybe it was because of the musical arrangement. I thought it kind of failed to drum up the nostalgia that her classic melodies and harmonies did for so many of us who fell in love with her music in the ’90s.”

The crowd finally jumped out of their seats once Hill launched into her hit “Doo Wop (That Thing)” while staying true to the recorded version.

Hill also spoke on the leading Black women in the music industry who paved the way and influenced her body of work.

“Wonderful, once Black girls turned women, who were my teachers — Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Nina Simone,” she said. “All of this beautiful Black brilliance just pouring into my soul, guiding me — all of Motown.”

Ms. Hill closed out the night with a soulful freestyle, as she again addressed the audience to honor Black girls and women.

“There are so many forces working against us,” she said. “There are so many forces working to stop us, working to divide us. Working to separate us from our glory, our power, and our clarity. ‘Cause when we come together, we change the world.”

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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