Keri Hilson Performs for McDonald’s All American Games
After more than seven years away from the main stage, Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Keri Hilson headlined the McDonald’s All American Games Fan Fest at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Ga, on Sunday with rapper Lil Baby.
The free, family-oriented event is a precursor to the annual McDonald’s All American Games, which spotlights the nation’s top high school basketball stars as they take a their first leap towards the collegiate and professional arenas. The event was hosted at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA, on Wednesday, March 27th.
Hilson explained that saying yes to McDonald’s was easy because she wanted to support the cause and the company. “Performing for a show like this is gratifying three-fold,” she said. “Number one, I found my purpose in philanthropy, so all of my time in the industry has brought me back to music really just being a vessel to give more.”
She continued, “Music is a conduit for inspiring others and changing people’s lives or helping them leave toxic relationships or whatever it is that they gain from the music [like] happiness or joy. Music became a vessel for me to give back bigger,” she said with a smile before adding, “on a larger stage, a bigger platform.”
The girls game started at 5 p.m. EST immediately followed by the boys game at 7 p.m. The multi-platinum hip-hop trio, Migos, headlined the halftime of the boys game. All the proceeds from the game go the Ronald McDonald House, a nonprofit dedicated to nurturing the health and well-being of children and families.
She felt honored to partner with McDonald’s because all the proceeds go to support needy children and families. Furthermore, she said, “McDonalds was one of my first shows ever.” Performing on Timbaland’s hit single “The Way I Are” featuring D.O.E. in 2007, she said, “McDonald’s actually gave me a huge platform early on in my career.”
During her youth, she worked with producer Anthony Dent as a songwriter and background vocalist for several R&B and hip-hop artists. By the age of 14, Hilson had secured a record deal with the girl group D’Signe.
As a former championship athlete who played basketball in high school, Hilson is a sports fan. “I was two years best offensive, senior year MVP and two years co-captain. This, to me, reminds me of those times. Like these are the kids who are the greats all across the nation, and they get to showcase their talent. It’s kind of like a scouting agent, the biggest of any kind for these kids to showcase their skills.”
At age 36, she only plays an offense-limited version of recreational basketball now. “I still have a shot, and I got some handles,” said the 5’9” singer, who broke her nose playing basketball in the 11th grade. “I shot around now, but that’s it.”
Driven by a “sincere” sense of social responsibility, she said, “I have a lot of causes that are close and dear to my heart just due to my family history and my own experiences.” Hinting at coping with depression, she was motivated to establish the Keri Hilson Foundation so that others can have, as she has had, an emotional outlet using creativity through the arts and physical education in school. “I’m an advocate for mental health…The main initiative is for us to bring back the arts and physical education in elementary schools. It’s a government funding issue, but we’re starting with Georgia.”
She is starting the initiative in her hometown Decatur, Ga. “We’ve given and donated money to art and music programs.”
Pushing for the return of sports in elementary schools, Hilson sees sports as means to build character beyond the game itself. “There are certain intangibles that you get from participating in sports, such as teamwork, work ethic, how to win with grace, how to lose and still persevere, such much.”
Basketball is one of her two favorite sports. Swimming is the other. She was on an all-black swim team at her high school in Decatur. She started swimming at age 3, and by age 14, she swam in the junior nationals representing the state of Georgia. “I swam until I was 17, so that was a huge part of my life as well as basketball. I did both.”
She wants to do a documentary about black swimmers, who are relatively unrepresented in the sport at the highest professional levels. “All of the black swimmers on my team got scholarships,” she explained before listing other African American celebrities who were swimmers, such as Ludacris and Kevin Hart. “We [beat] everybody. We got called every name in the book. They thought we cheated.”
Being able to compete and overcome jeering as an athlete, somewhat prepared her to overcome anxiety during her biggest moment in entertainment: the 2010 Grammy Awards. Hilson had been nominated twice at the 52nd Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for “Knock You Down” with Kanye West and Ne-Yo. “The camera was in my face, and my heart was pounding,” she said. Although Zac Brown Band won for Best New Artist that year, she said, “Because I was an athlete, I know how to accept an L. You learn how to take an L with grace and know that ‘it’s not my turn; it’s their turn… I think athletes have a certain understanding of wins and losses.”
On Monday, Hilson took to Instagram to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her first, career-defining album, In A Perfect World. The 2009 album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Album Chart with guest appearances by Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Akon, Keyshia Cole, Ne-Yo, and Trina.
She wrote, “I didn’t mean to be gone so long, I only needed my real world to be perfect…it is now. Thank you for your patience. The wait is over.”
Her last major hit single was “Pretty Girl Rock,” the second single from Hilson’s second studio album, No Boys Allowed released in September 2010. Certified platinum, it reached number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number four on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart.
Since then, Hilson has released bits of music from the album. Meanwhile, she stated that she has been “sitting on” on new music, according to a recent Instagram note to fans. While she is pursuing acting now, but she plans on releasing new music this summer.
Her concern for her fans and people in general was evident during her performance at Fan Fest. When she was alerted that a few people in the audience were suffering from the effects of heat exhaustion, she stopped performing to repeatedly advise that everyone “stay hydrated.” She also wanted to confirm that everyone was okay before she went on to perform hits like “Pretty Girl Rock.”
By all appearances, Ms. Keri is back!
The East defeated the West 83-68 with Jordan Horston named the game’s most valuable player and leading scorer. Horston racked up 14 points, four rebounds, three steals and one assist. South Carolina’s Zia Cooke finished with nine points, seven rebounds, four assists and one steal.