In the spirit of two-fisted political singer/songwriters such as Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Betty Davis, Odetta, Joni Mitchell, and others, Nona Hendryx releases her first full length CD in twenty years. Mutatis Mutandis (Latin for "Changing those things which need to be changed"), Hendryx attacks the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh ("Ballad of Rush Limbaugh"), Gulf oil spills ("Oil On The Water"), and lends the necessary gravitas to a striking rendition of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" with a smoky vocal tessitura somewhere between funk and the end of the stratosphere. Tackling social issues, love and politics, Hendyrx's legendary career spans six decades of sound and style evolution.
Longtime Nona Hendryx fans know her as one of the founding members of the doo-wop girl group, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles, (with Sarah Dash, Cindy Birdsong and lead singer Patti LaBelle), known as "the Sweethearts of the Apollo Theatre" and inducted into the R & B Hall of Fame in 1999.) Signed to Atlantic Records by legendary executive Jerry Wexler, their tight harmonies (spiced with Patti's soaring gospel-tinged lead vocals) served up a mixed platter of modern hits, beautiful standards, and soulful covers of songs such as "Over the Rainbow." When the British invasion of rock & roll effectively stomped out hairspray Brill Building girl groups, and Bluebelle, Cindy, was snatched up by Berry Gordy (to replace Florence Ballard in the Supremes). The remaining Bluebelles tossed their wigs, grew afros and radically reinvented themselves as the iconic rock-funk group, Labelle. Signed to Warner Brothers the singers revamped both their material and their sound, releasing a self-titled album that featured soul treatments of rock and pop songs by the Rolling Stones, Kenny Rogers, and Carole King (to name a few!) with Nona Hendryx breaking out as the group's super Shero Raison d'etre (penning both the soulful "Too Many Days", and the anthemic "Shades of Difference"). Collaborating on Laura Nyro's 1971 Billboard 200 charting album Gonna Take A Miracle (produced by Philadelphia Soul Music icons Gamble and Huff) and embarking upon a road tour as the opening act for British rock group The Who, Labelle's take no prisoners schizophrenic transition was, to say the least, startling, proving they could stimulate to near collapse the most die hard rock fans while maintaining the funk. Propelling themselves into the 70s, Nona emerged as the chief songwriter of the group's socially conscious & illuminating message songs("Sunday's News" and the tonal shifting "People Say They're Changing") as well as equally adept at writing rousing blue light basement tomes of love and loss ("Ain't it Sad Its All Over", "Touch Me All Over" and the erotic "Going Down Makes Me Shiver").
The three girls who began their career in the matching silhouettes of youthful simplicity took a fashion note from the psychedelic British glam-rock scene and forged ahead into the proto-disco 70s donned in outlandish space-age sequined satins and Astro hair styles. Staging elaborate operatic shows that saw them flying from the rafters and lowered onto the stage in feathers and silver, they revolutionized both television ( the UK's In Concert and U.S.'s Don Kirshner's Rock Concert) and live performances with their Wear Something Silver rock show at New York's prestigious Metropolitan Opera House, as well as opera houses around the world.
Firmly planted in an autonomous liberation at the socio political intersection of race, sex and class, their groundbreaking campaign as music pioneers soon saw Labelle racking up three gold albums and a #1 worldwide platinum hit with the single "Lady Marmalade" (Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi Ce Soir?) before unexpectedly disbanding in 1977 with its namesake's mounting a solo career. If Labelle fans grieved the end of an era, Nona Hendryx fans would welcome a new one as the revolutionary art-rock, new-wave goddess embarked upon her own impressive solo career, which spanned eight studio albums and engaged her with an impressive line up of collaborators (from Prince, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, Vernon Reid of Living Color, AfrikaBambata, Bono and the soul influenced funk band Cameo), resulting in several top ten hits and a Grammy nomination ("Rock This House", from her album The Heat, 1985, with Keith Richards on guitar).
As an artist who always erred on the cutting edge side of the avante garde, her albums remained edgy; provocative, political and full of double entendres, from Nona 1977 and Female Trouble 1986 to SkinDiver 1989, with top ten hits including "Bustin' Out," "Keep It Confidential," "Transformation," and "Why Should I Cry?" But it is the ageless diva's performance style that has helped Nona assail the changing times: part old school high voltage rhythm & blues circuit, part hard rock electro-shock therapy--if you miss the message, the groove keeps you on the dance floor until the revelation comes. Fast forwarding into the 20th and 21st century (without losing an octave or gaining a pound) Nona Hendryx remains the Queen of Transformation; writing music for theater (the Roundabout's BLUE, written and directed by Charles R. Wright and starring Phylicia Rashad); film (the 2010 Oscar-nominated Precious),and producing and collaborating in the works of a new generation of artists (appearing in an India Irie video as well as cowriting and appearing on the Terri Lyne Carrington Grammy Award winning Mosaic project with Esperanza Spalding, Cassandra Wilson, Diane Reeves and Sheila E.).
A certified techno, Nona loves all things technical and has had built an `audio tutu' e.g. wearable art/sound system, which she has introduced in art galleries in London and Berlin (Somerset House and VW Gallery, respectively). In 2011, Hendryx added to her long career an adjunct position teaching Stage Craft, a course she created for The Clive Davis Department at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and was appointed Ambassador for Artistry in Education at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Making yet another transformation with Mutatis Mutandis, an album that has both politically and socially relevant lyrics wrapped in funky grooves, soulful vocals, and driven by rock charged rhythms. Quite simply put, Nona Hendryx is the quintessential "mother" of contemporary artists such as Erykah Badu, Emeli Sande, Janelle Monae, M.I.A., V.V. Brown, and others who can only hope to see careers that allow them to span the decades, and she still rocks on!
Saturday Beatles Brunch