Nona Hendryx (born October 9, 1944 (many articles mistakenly state that her first name was Wynona, which is incorrect and has been verified by her manager, Vicki Wickham), in Trenton, New Jersey) is a vocalist, record producer, songwriter, musician, Author, and actress.
Hendryx is known for her work as a solo artist as well as for being one-third of the trio Labelle, who had a hit with "Lady Marmalade." Her music has ranged from soul, funk, dance, and rhythm and blues to hard rock, art rock, and new age.
Labelle had emerged from the traditional "girl group" Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, a quartet that became a trio with Cindy Birdsong's departure for The Supremes. It was manager Vicki Wickham who re-imagined the group as Labelle; as glam rock/space age divas, Labelle created a sound and look previously unheard of for a black, all-female crew, what with the "girl group" pigeon-holing of the time. Hendryx embraced the new concept whole-heartedly (much more so than Patti LaBelle in particular, who stated her own adoration for "big ballads"; bandmate Sarah Dash remained fairly neutral throughout their time together). Hendryx and Wickham paired off on a creative level.
Hendryx became the primary songwriter for Labelle beginning with their second album, MoonShadow. She subsequently wrote powerful ballads ("You Turn Me On" and "Nightbird" from Nightbirds, "Going Down Makes Me Shiver" from Labelle's final album, Chameleon), and a wealth of more uptempo numbers ("Space Children," "Messin' With My Mind," "Gypsy Moths," and "Who's Watching the Watcher"). Her themes were unconventional, diverse, and often experimental. Her composition "A Man In A Trenchcoat (Voodoo)" from Chameleon also marked Hendryx's first time singing lead vocal on an album.
In her memoir Don't Block The Blessings, Labelle frontwoman Patti LaBelle attributed the band's 1976 breakup in part to Hendryx's mental breakdown, which came following the tensions within the group. Labelle, Dash, and Hendryx all embarked on solo careers; Wickham stayed on with Hendryx to manage her solo career.
In 1977, Hendryx released her first solo album - a self-titled collection. A blend of soul and hard rock, it contained notable standout tracks such as "Winning" - later recorded by Santana - and the haunting ballad "Leaving Here Today". It quickly disappeared from the shelves, and Hendryx was dropped from Epic. Subsequently, she recorded four singles for Arista (London), which also escaped chart success. She did find success doing session work during this period, most notably providing background vocals for the Talking Heads and touring with them, appearing first at the major Heatwave festival in August 1980.
In the early 80's, Hendryx fronted her own progressive art-rock group, Zero Cool. Simultaneously, she sang with experimental funk group Material, achieving a giant club hit with "Busting Out," which can be described as "disco with a hard rock edge." She had two other major club hits soon after: a dance remake of The Supremes' "Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart," and - in a lead vocal guest spot for the Cage - "Do What You Wanna Do." Material also produced her second album, Nona, in 1983. The hip, contemporary dance sound of this album proved to be more charts-compatible, with the single "Keep It Confidential" becoming a modest R'n'B-hit, and a remix of "B-boys" finding major success on the dance charts. "Transformation" became a Hendryx staple, and was later covered by Fierce Ruling Diva. Another particularly noteworthy track on the album is the ballad "Great Design," which featured guests Laurie Anderson, Gina Shock of The Go-Go's, Valerie Simpson of Ashford & Simpson, Tina Weymouth of Tom Tom Club and Talking Heads, Nancy Wilson of Heart, and former bandmate Patti LaBelle.
In the mid-1980s, Hendryx was recruited by RCA to record songs for various soundtracks, including: the theme for Moving Violations; "I Sweat (Going Through the Motions)," a commercial hit for Hendryx from the Jamie Lee Curtis film Perfect; and "Transparent" from the Eddie Murphy vehicle, Coming To America. Her album The Art Of Defense was released in 1984.
In 1985, Hendryx wrote and recorded "Rock This House" with Keith Richards, from her album The Heat. The song was nominated for a Grammy award. The same year, the MTV broadcast of the video "I Need Love" stirred some controversy for featuring drag queens, and it was quickly removed from MTV's playlist as a result.
Her biggest commercial success came with 1987's single "Why Should I Cry?", a top 5 R'n'B hit (also reaching #58 on the Billboard 100). The accompanying album, Female Trouble, boasted an impressive list of contributors, including Peter Gabriel and Prince. Around this time, she became a member of the Black Rock Coaltion, founded by Vernon Reid of Living Colour.
Hendryx took a detour from commercial music with Skin Diver, new age-record produced with long-time Tangerine Dream-member Peter Baumann. The album was generally greeted with positive feedback from critics, though commercially unsuccessful. The title track did attract some attention, as did "Women Who Fly, which was later covered by Jefferson Starship.
In addition to the duet-album with Billy Vera (You Have to Cry Sometime) and a couple of compilation-only tracks, Hendryx has recorded more than five albums worth of music, but has been unable to release any of it due to lack of interest from major and independent record labels. Her Epic, RCA and EMI albums have long been out of print and have yet to attract the attention of specialist reissue labels, but a Best Of album titled Transformation was released in 1999 by Razor & Tie.
Hendryx has also dabbled in acting. She wrote and performed the theme for Landlord Blues (1987), while also having a small part in the film as attorney Sally Viscuso. She played herself in the late-90's Pam Grier series Linc's, and at the end of the show accompanied herself on the piano for "Lift Every Voice." Most recently, she appeared in the third season of The L Word, which closed with Grier, Hendryx, and the trio BETTY singing a cover of the Hendryx track "Transformation."
She remains in high demand for musical collaborations, both for her vocals and her songwriting. One of her early collaborations was with Jerry Harrison's (Talking Heads) The Red and The Black album 1981. In 1992, she recorded a duet with Billy Crawford, "Urgently In Love," which was considered by many to be a strong single that was not promoted properly. In 1998, she recorded the huge rap hit "It's a Party" with Bounty Killer. She has also written songs for Dusty Springfield and Ultra Nate, and produced albums for Lisa Lisa and The Bush Tetras. Other artists with whom she has recorded with over the years include: David Johansen, Yoko Ono, Cameo, Talking Heads (3 albums), 80's band Our Daughter's Wedding, Garland Jeffreys, Dan Hartman, Afrika Bambaata (performing a duet of "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" with Boy George), Canadian band Rough Trade, Curtis Hairston, and Graham Parker on the hit single, "Soul Christmas."
In the beginning of the current decade, Hendryx was asked to appear on two of Paul Haslinger's albums; two tracks for which she sang lead vocals - "Higher Purpose" and "Beginning to End" -were featured on the soundtrack for the Showtime series Sleeper Cell.
Currently, Hendryx is still touring and has written plays, including Blue. Recently, Sandra St.Victor (The Family Stand) recruited daughters of famous African American soul/blues icons - including Lalah Hathaway, Simone, Indira Khan, and Leah McCrae - together with "spiritual daughters" Joyce Kennedy, Caron Wheeler, and Nona, to form the Group Daughters Of Soul, which has enjoyed much success, especially on the European tour circuit.
Since the breakup of Labelle, Patti, Sarah, and Nona have reunited on occasion. These reunions include Patti LaBelle's "Live In New York" video, the dance hit "Turn It Out" from the soundtrack To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995), and two television specials. In January 2006, Labelle again reunited to record "Dear Rosa," a tribute to civil rights leader Rosa Parks (yet to be released). Currently there are talks of more recording collaborations and even a tour in 2007. Labelle will also have songs featured on the soundtrack for the upcoming film Preaching to the Choir, with Nona being the composer of the film's soundtrack.
Hendryx has also authored a children's book, called The Brownies.
- Everybody Wants To Be Somebody, 1977, Epic
- You're The Only One That I Ever Needed, 1979, Arista Records
- Love It, 1979, Arista
- Snakes Alive, 1979, Arista
- Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart, 1980, Barclay
- Busting Out, 1980, Island Records
- Holiday, 1980, Island Records
- Do What You Wanna Do, 1982, Metropolis
- Do What You Wanna Do, 1982, Hot Tracks Remix, 1983
- Keep It Confidential, 1983, RCA (R'n'B #22, Club #25, Pop #91)
- Keep It Confidential, 1983, Hot Tracks Remix, 1983
- Transformation, 1983, RCA (R'n'B #40)
- B-Boys, 1983, RCA (Club #25)
- I Sweat (Going Through The Motions), 1984, RCA (R'n'B #28)
- To The Bone, 1984, RCA
- Heart of a Woman, 1984, RCA
- If Looks Could Kill (D.O.A.), 1985, RCA (R'n'B #71)
- I Need Love, 1985, RCA (R'n'B #68)
- Baby Go-Go, 1987, EMI (R'n'B #60)
- Why Should I Cry?, 1987, EMI, (R'n'B #5, Club #6, Pop #58, UK #60)
- Winds Of Change (Mandela To Mandela), 1987, EMI
- SkinDiver, 1989, Private Music Records
- Women Who Fly, 1989, Private Music Records
- Urgently In Love (with Billy Crawford), 1992
- It's a Party (with Bounty Killer), 1998
- Nona Hendryx, 1977, Epic
- Nona, 1982, RCA Records (R'n'B #25, Pop #83)
- The Art of Defense, 1984, RCA (Pop #167)
- The Heat, 1985, RCA
- Female Trouble, 1987, EMI (R'n'B #30, Pop #96)
- Skin Diver 1989, Private Music
- You Have To Cry Sometime (with Billy Vera) 1992, Shanachie
Film / Television / Theater / RadioEdit
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, 1978, Cameo in finale, MCA, film
- Heartbreakers, 1984 (song "Transformation")
- Landlord Blues, 1987, Composer (Music Score) / Vocalist, Title Track / Acting as attorney "Sally Viscuso" film
- Gospa, (Composer) 1995, MCA film
- People: A Musical Celebration, (composer) 1996, TV
- Blue, (Composer) 2001, Theater
- On the One ... aka Preaching to the Choir , 2005
- The L Word, season 3 episode 8 (as herself) 2006, TV
- Preaching to the Choir, a.k.a. On the One, 2006, (Composer) film: USA
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