As the funky front woman for the neosoul duo Lion Babe—whose self-titled EP has pumped up the buzz for its upcoming debut album—Jillian Hervey is fulfilling her musical destiny: She is the daughter of Vanessa Williams and her first husband, Ramon Hervey II, who has managed everyone from Babyface and Natalie Cole to Williams herself.
"Just coming from a musical family, I was always surrounded by it," says Hervey, 26. "On the car rides to school, my mom loved playing A Tribe Called Quest and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and then my dad was listening to a lot of Bill Withers and Stevie Wonder. Both of my mom's parents were music teachers, so I got a lot of knowledge about everything from classical music to jazz to musicals."
Before forming Lion Babe with producer and instrumentalist Lucas Goodman, Hervey was pursuing a dance career, having studied contemporary and modern dance at The New School in New York City. "I wanted to be my own person and stay away from the singing and the acting," she says. "I'm not one to run around and say who my mom is. She definitely—from day one—taught us all to be very independent." Clearly Hervey got the whole independent thing down, not even letting Williams know about Lion Babe at first. "It was certainly a concern initially," she says of following her mother into the music business. "So I didn't really tell her about it."
Now Hervey is making a name for herself, not just with Lion Babe songs like the Pharrell Williams–produced "Wonder Woman" but also with her striking look, which is topped off with a signature mop of curly locks. "It's my version of a lion's mane," says Hervey, whose style idols include Josephine Baker, Naomi Campbell and Chaka Khan. "Onstage I channel my inner goddess. Everyday Jillian is definitely more low-key: jeans and a crop top with a sneaker or boot." And if she needs fashion advice or any other diva pointers, Mom is always available. "We're very different in how we express ourselves, but she's a great example," says Hervey. "She came into her career at a time when the whole world was judging her [following her Miss America scandal]. If she got through that, then I can get through anything."
This article was originally published in the November issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands now!