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.
Williams was as in the dark about how ‘Late Nights & Heartbreak’ would be used until 4:44 dropped. But the substantial sample of her voice opened doors she never dreamed of. “It was an incredible catalyst,” she says, “as a change in our collective career, and getting a global audience. Suddenly, there were millions of predominantly American hip-hop fans listening to my voice, going ‘Is this from the ’60s? Is she dead?’”
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.”
Hannah Williams & The Affirmations are:
Hannah Williams – Main Vocal
James Graham – Wurlitzer, Piano, Organ
Adam Newton – Bass
Adam Holgate – Guitar
Jai Widdowson-Jones – Drums, Percussion
Victoria Klewin – Backing Vocals
Hannah Nicholson – Backing Vocals
Liam Treasure – Trombone
Tom Taylor – Baritone Saxophone