Singer Gina Hill was called ‘Ms. Southern Soul’

Gina Hill was a seamstress and a songstress who commanded the stage with grace and power.

Born in Fort Valley and raised in Chattanooga, Willie Gresham, who became known to many as Gina Hill, always wanted to pursue a singing career.

She was a part of the gospel-singing “Hill Family” with her siblings. The group of six traveled to churches from Nashville to Michigan.

In the 1970s Hill settled in Atlanta. She was the featured vocalist at The Playboy Club, the historic Paschal’s LaCarousel Lounge and Underground Atlanta.

“She had a unique music style, very diverse,” said her daughter Karren Torres. “She would sing country, gospel, jazz and pop.”

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Inspired by musical icons Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James and Stevie Wonder, she was known for her strong alto voice and called “Ms. Southern Soul.” During her career she worked with artists such as The Pointer Sisters, Eartha Kitt, The Staple Singers, Brick, The SOS Band, Frank Acree Trio and Dan Wall Trio.

“When I was a child I’d go with her and sit on the stage while she was on stage; she knew how to work the audience,” said Torres.

At the peak of her professional singing career she recorded two songs with Lou-Neita Recordings, called “Rich Man’s Toy” and “Help Me Solve This Problem.”

In a time when segregation was prominent in the South, Hill persevered: “Through difficult circumstances and segregation she didn’t let that get in the way, she embraced it,” said Torres.

“She really enjoyed being on stage, she held her own, it was her stage and she commanded respect.” Entertaining was Hill’s way of encouraging people to be together, her daughter said.

“She was gracious and far from shy,” said friend John Pontello.

Willie B. “Gina Hill” Gresham died Thursday of complications due to dementia. She was 73. A funeral service will be at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at Advantage Funeral & Cremation Services, 1724 McCallie Ave., Chattanooga. Advantage Funeral & Cremation Services is in charge of arrangements.

Hill was also a professional tailor and made all the outfits she wore on stage: “She was so good, she could take a piece material, tie a few knots in it and it was a gown,” said Torres.

In the early 1980s she opened her own shop, Gina’s Needle in Buckhead.

“She took me under her wing, we had a strong bond,” said Pontello. Hill taught Pontello how to sew, and they opened an alteration shop together in Midtown.

“She was good at hand-beading and altering beaded gowns; her strong suit was in glamorous clothing,” said Pontello.

Hill continued to sing up until her seventy-third birthday.

“In my mind she will always be a superstar,” said Torres.

In addition to her daughter Hill is survived by son in-law Javier Torres; grandchildren Jasmine L. Torres and Javier Torres Jr. of Washington, D.C.; a sister, Lorena H. Morgan of Chattanooga; and a brother, Alvin L. Hill of Atlanta.

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