Last night, the Dakota Jazz Club had two special shows in store for Prince fans. Three artists who worked with him for lengthy periods — Liv Warfield, Shelby J., and Judith Hill — united at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to share their new music and some old favorites, working under the name Love 4 One Another (after Prince’s tour and charity foundation). The same band accompanied all three performers, with Ryan Waters on guitar, Uriah Duffy on bass, Bobby Sparks on keys, Keith Anderson on sax, and TaRon Lockett on drums. With Larry Graham and several other Prince friends in the building, Warfield, Hill, and Shelby J. pulled off an incredible show.
Shelby J. opened Love 4 One Another with five songs and a contagious love for life. In April, she’ll release her first studio album, and what I heard of it last night invigorated both Shelby and the crowd. She did a lap around the Dakota during “Superpower,” running up the balcony stairs and down the other side. As the crowd cheered for her current single “Good 2 Know,” some whoops came from backstage; “I hear you back there, Liv,” Shelby cracked.
Right after Shelby left the stage, back-up singers Saeeda Wright and Ashley Minnieweather (who toured with Prince in 2015) began a duet of “Strange Fruit,” the civil rights psalm popularized by Billie Holiday. Wright and Minnieweather looked straight ahead, radiating gravitas, and not a fork clinked against the plates on the Dakota’s white tablecloths.
Judith Hill, the artist who sang with Prince and Michael Jackson near the ends of their careers, has stepped up her live show since I saw her perform at Paisley Park. At that show in October 2015, she clearly had incredible skills — experience, sensitivity, and one of the most capable voices I’ve ever heard in person — but even after Prince urged her to take center stage, she hung back behind her keyboard.
Last night, she stepped in front. During her five-song set, she brought Warfield and Shelby J. out to sing the Staple Singers’ grooving “Let’s Do It Again.” She didn’t follow any other musician’s lead, but rather, she “took the band for a ride,” as photographer Emmet Kowler put it. During her song “As Trains Go By,” she started chanting the opening lines of Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us,” weaving one anti-oppression cry into another.
Hill “deeply cared” about Prince and traveled with him during his final days. According to the Chicago Tribune in 2015, Prince “urged [Hill] to perfect her live show,” and she’s done just that. When she said, “A lover? Yes. But more than that, a true friend,” during “Cry, Cry, Cry,” it felt like she was talking about someone in particular. And there’s nothing worth more than a true friend.
Warfield played a pair of songs between “Strange Fruit” and Judith Hill, and she returned for a few more after Hill, waving her tambourine at Waters’s guitar like she was fanning a fire. “I’ve been doing my cardio!” she exclaimed, sweat dripping, before she covered “Them Changes” by Buddy Miles and Carlos Santana (some know it better as Jimi Hendrix’s “Changes”). Her rock and roll side can light up a stage.
I knew the trio had a 10 p.m. show to prepare for, but I dearly wished they could hold down the stage until the early morning (much like Hill and friends did at the Dance On Til Dawn show Prince’s family hosted last October). I was grateful they all performed one final song: “Musicology,” by the man who brought them together. Almost the entire audience jumped out of their seats and danced in the aisles between tables, and even though it lasted several minutes, the encore also ended far too soon. The band ended “Musicology” with a playful “D.M.S.R.” riff, foreshadowing one of the songs they’d play during the later show’s encore.
According to Shelby J., fans should “stay tuned” for more from Love 4 One Another. I know I will.
Cecilia Johnson is a staff writer at the Local Current blog. Emmet Kowler works with lights all day and takes pictures after dark.