20 Questions

Nona Hendryx

by Christian John Wikane

7 June 2009

In 1962, Nona Hendryx shared a bill with everyone from Bo Diddley to the Marvelettes. She took some time with PopMatters to talk about Buster Crabbe and her knack for fixing TVs.
Photo (partial) by
Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo 

December 1962, New York City. Puddles of melted snow on 125th street are just starting to freeze as the moon ascends. Inside the Apollo Theater, however, things are heating up. The Motor Town Revue, a multi-artist bill featuring Motown acts, has arrived. Mary Wells, Martha & the Vandellas, and “Little” Stevie Wonder have commanded a packed house. 

Earlier that May, the Marvelettes, one of the label’s hit groups, appeared at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh for famed DJ Porky Chadwick’s “Groove Spectacular”. Joining them were Jackie Wilson, the Drifters, the Angels, and Gene Pitney. The 13,000 audience members might have bought tickets to hear “Lonely Teardrops”, but they left dancing to “Please Mr. Postman”.

Nona Hendryx remembers those days very well. In fact, she performed at Chadwick’s “Groove Spectacular” as a member of the Bluebelles, her group with Patti LaBelle, Sarah Dash, and Cindy Birdsong. At the time, it was not uncommon for many different kinds of artists to perform at the same venue for the same concert. When appearing at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre for a show produced by the legendary DJ, Murray the K, Hendryx would find herself on the marquee with just about anyone.

“He would have the Zombies, Marvin Gaye, Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Bluebelles, the Shirelles, Herman’s Hermits on the same bill”, she remembers. (The Bluebelles were no strangers to headlining either, earning the affectionate sobriquet, “The Sweethearts of the Apollo”, after becoming a popular mainstay at the legendary venue in the early ‘60s.)

Hendryx is summoning the spirit of multi-artist bills that cross-pollinate genres in the latest of her numerous ventures. HopeStock: Music to Bailout Your Soul stems from the challenges that self-sustaining independent artists face in constantly cultivating new audience members and finding different kinds of music venues to perform in.

The need to grow and expand has much personal resonance for Hendryx, whose five-decade career has largely been guided by creative exploration outside the mainstream. “It’s very difficult for artists to build an audience without losing part of their soul”, Hendryx says. “It’s very soul-destroying to constantly do and play the same places and not see any movement, whatever small amount it is, in what you’re doing and your growth”.

Spearheading a team of individuals with creative and professional simpatico, Hendryx conceived HopeStock as a platform to emphasize how live performance remains an integral component in the careers of artists while also reinforcing music’s power to uplift and inspire audiences, especially in these times of social, economic, and political unrest.

The first HopeStock concert, scheduled for 11 June at Merkin Hall in New York City, exemplifies a range of talent: everything from an operatically trained Baritone with funk orientations (Giuseppe Spoletini) to a Grammy-nominated indie soul artist (Maiysha). “All the artists are very different,” Hendryx emphasizes.

Beyond the first of many memorable musical evenings, the HopeStock team already has three additional concerts scheduled through September. Brooklyn-based Maya Azucena and Twilight composer Bobby Long are confirmed for futures shows while a few surprise guest appearances are expected to be unveiled along the way.

As Nona Hendryx made final preparations for the inaugural HopeStock show, she took some time with PopMatters to think about Buster Crabbe, Gerbeau jeans, and her knack for fixing TVs.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
A spa vacation, definitely. I would say Maya Tulum, which is in Tulum, Mexico. It’s not glitzy. It’s just this small place where they do a lot of healing treatments with massage and Ayurvedic treatments. It’s just wonderful.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
I’d go with chocolate. Chocolate is absolutely amazing. It has benefits. It’s sensual. It’s filling. It goes with just about everything. A bar of chocolate can sustain you if you’re ever stranded on a desert island. It has a lot of things going for it as well as it just tastes great.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
It’s really neither city or country. It is island. At one point, it was the Caribbean. I think it may still well be. I’m not sure because I’ve fallen in love with that part of Mexico, as well. It’s somewhere hot, that’s all I know. I’m really a creature of both city and country. I love both of them.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
“Why would you want this job? ” That would be my first question. Then, I guess, to “really be honest in what you do”.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on now?
Other than HopeStock, I’m working on a new all-star female band. I’m starting to form that and create music.

We don’t know yet what we’re going to call ourselves. I’m going to rearrange the names because I think it’s easier for people to remember “HDBC” rather than the way we had it, so it’s “Hendryx, Dorsey, Blackmon and Collins”. People know “HD” and they know “BC” so it’s easy.

I’m still working on Skin Diver: The Musical. I’m working on an art project as my next musical recording, which is to collaborate with artists so that the music I create is housed inside art as opposed to the traditional packaging of music.

Friends who I did some other collaborative work with, who are artists who create contemporary art, they’re going to create something for one of the pieces. There’s a painter and a guy who paints and sculpts who’s going to make something. It will be ten or 12 musical housing items with music in them so that you can either have them in your home as art or music.

That’s what I’m working on, among other things.

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