This story is featured in the May/June issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands now.
Having given birth to a baby boy this past December, Jillian Hervey, front woman for the R&B duo Lion Babe, is looking forward to celebrating her first Mother’s Day. It will also be a special time for her mother, actress and singer Vanessa Williams, who will be celebrating as a first-time grandmother. Ahead of the holiday, mother and daughter came together over Zoom to talk about how their new roles have changed them and influenced their relationship.
“I’ve just literally been in my house with this baby and my puppy all of the time,” says Hervey, 32, while holding her infant son. She says the birth of Sunny Rise Goodman has helped her find a new rhythm in life. “I’m cherishing it, because everyone always says it flies by,” she adds. “Just seeing how much he changes every day, and bonding with him—I think it’s been so special and rare to have this pace of life right now. So I’m just trying to savor it all.”
Williams says it’s been a great joy, not only to connect with her grandson but to watch her daughter, the second- eldest of four children, embrace motherhood so naturally. “Jillian is very maternal,” the 59-year-old says. “She’s always been very caring and attentive. She’s a great cook and baker, and she loves to entertain and host, so I knew she was going to be a great mother.”
Hervey leaned on her mother for advice before giving birth, and she still does. Since the baby arrived, the two have communicated even more often. They FaceTime and text multiple times a day, and Williams tries to visit her daughter and grandson at least once a week. She seeks to provide Hervey with wisdom about mothering but also to give her space to become her own type of parent.
“I didn’t want to be too heavy-handed, but I would definitely share
my experience and, if there was any kind of stress, try to quell that anxiety,” Williams says. “She knew that I was there for any questions and if she needed me to jump in for anything.”
Only those closest to Hervey knew she was pregnant—and it stayed that way until January, one month after she’d given birth to Sunny. Her new motherhood stunned her fans, who not only hadn’t known she was expecting but had no clue she’d been dating her child’s father, Lion Babe bandmate Lucas Goodman, for years. She finally shared the news on social media, through a photo of herself standing in front of a gold backdrop. She held her swollen belly, which was adorned with a painting of a golden sun, as the duo’s single “Radiant Child” played in the background. As perfect as this was, the song—and the album it came from, Rainbow Child—were titled before the couple knew they were having a baby.
Hervey was initially hesitant to reveal that she’d given birth, over concerns for her music career and privacy. “It was one of those moments where you build up this whole idea of what it’s going to mean to everyone else—all this pressure, that it’s going to shift my identity and they’re going to look at us differently,” Hervey recalls. “I think the longer I waited, the heavier it got for me.”
But the public reaction was the complete opposite of what she had feared. “I’m so happy everyone was happy,” she says. “It was funny watching people in the comments say, ‘I knew it!’”
For Williams, the first person in her friend group to have a grandchild, it was challenging to keep Hervey’s pregnancy under wraps, as it was a pivotal moment in her life as well. Still, despite her excitement, she respected her daughter’s decision.
She recalls that when she was expecting her first child, in 1987, at the age of 24, she went about things differently. The former Miss USA winner was more public about her pregnancies and births, allowing occasional baby photos in the media. But while Williams has often lived a public life, she made sure to raise her children with an understanding of the importance of privacy and the stability that comes with it.
“My kids have been offered a lot to be in reality shows,” she says. “That would be an easy money grab, but you also pay a price when you lose your privacy. And is that cost worth it? So all four of my kids have wanted to keep their private life private.”
For her part, having a child has made Hervey more appreciative of her mom’s parenting style. Williams moved the family to her hometown of Chappaqua, roughly 40 miles north of New York City, when the kids were pre-school age. She wanted them to have a sense of normalcy, despite their mother’s fame, and also for them to be close to their grandparents.
“I think you have to have a part of your life that can ground you and feel like it’s yours, and it’s sacred, and no one can offer their opinion,” Hervey says. “I definitely want to create both of those things for my son, too. I want to be able to take him to see all these amazing things and do all these amazing things. But I also want to make sure he has a place that he knows—‘Okay, this is my room. This is my bed.’”
Sunny’s birth has ultimately brought mother and daughter closer. “The fact that she knows I will always be available for guidance forges a much deeper bond, when you’re dealing with creating a new life and trying to map out the world for a tiny human being,” Williams reflects. With Mother’s Day coming up, the two are still figuring out how they will commemorate the occasion. Williams is currently performing in the Broadway comedy POTUS, while Hervey is busy being a full-time mom. They hope to spend the day together, sharing in the awe at what they’ve accomplished.
“It’s wonderful that she can enjoy her first Mother’s Day this way,” Williams says. “I remember having my first child at 24 and saying, ‘Oh my God, how did my mother do this? You marvel at it, like, wow, it’s pretty amazing that you can maneuver and schedule and just function. But women have been doing it forever.”
“I think more than anything, I’m excited to just have that moment,” Hervey adds. “This whole journey really makes you just appreciate mothers—your mother, and other people who go through this, and how it’s such a beautiful thing and such an amazing sacrifice.”