“I’m constantly looking for the edge ... so I can push it,” says Nona Hendryx. Indeed, a fearless sensibility has always kindled the Grammy-nominated icon’s career, whether recording genre-bending solo albums, writing songs as one-third of the legendary trio Labelle or collaborating with Gary Lucas on their forthcoming, full-length release The World of Captain Beefheart (2017). Her artistry thrives in live music spaces, from leading a band of unbridled, no-holds-barred funk/rock to incorporating progressive technology and visual media into her performances. It’s why Joe’s Pub at the Public has selected Hendryx to inaugurate their 2018 Vanguard Residency program.
“I’m so honored to be standing next to our first Vanguard Resident, Nona Hendryx,” said Shanta Thake, the Director of Joe’s Pub at the Public, during a press conference announcing the venue’s partnership with Hendryx. “This is our latest program that’s supporting the work and the narratives of the great American artists of our time. While we were creating the program, the name that kept coming up, and ultimately how we formed the criteria for the program, was around Nona Hendryx—the idea of somebody who is not only a vanguard artist who has changed the form and the field of American pop culture, specifically, but also has remained deeply connected to Joe’s Pub and a larger community of artists.”
Ever since Joe’s Pub opened in 1998, the acclaimed New York venue has showcased and supported an array of Hendryx’s creative endeavors, including Nona Rewired, Nona Hendryx presents Parallel Lives: Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday, and a workshop of her rock opera Skin Diver. Beginning in January 2018, Hendryx will curate a yearlong series of live performances and events as part of her Vanguard Residency, bridging different artists, genres, and creative disciplines.
“I’m really honored and excited about doing this,” said Hendryx. “Performing at Joe’s Pub has always been a wonderful experience. When Shanta asked me, I thought, ‘How would I like to spend 2018?’ That was the offer in terms of honoring me, thinking about the possibilities and different types of programming and types of artists that I can bring together, mix, and make a stew. Hopefully, people will like how it tastes, because that’s what I’ve always done from the beginning.”
In fact, the day after her Vanguard Residency announcement, Hendryx was honored for her groundbreaking work in Labelle. On 4 October 2017, Hendryx and Labelle bandmates Patti LaBelle and Sarah Dash were inducted into the Philadelphia Music Alliance’s “Walk of Fame”. The trio made history as the first black group to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House and to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone, while their rendition of “Lady Marmalade” topped the pop and R&B charts in 1975. It was through Labelle’s trailblazing mixture of funk, rock, and soul that listeners first heard the genius of Hendryx’s songwriting on “Nightbirds”, “Are You Lonely”, “Who’s Watching the Watcher”, “Messin’ With My Mind”, “I Believe That I’ve Finally Made It Home”, “(Can I Speak to You Before You Go to) Hollywood”, among several other classics.
Forty years since her solo debut Nona Hendryx (1977) unveiled a searing hard rock sound, Hendryx has been experimenting with different styles and teaming with artists and bands ranging from Material, Yoko Ono, and Talking Heads, to Nile Rodgers, Terri Lyne Carrington, and house and funk DJ/production duo Soul Clap, as well as composing music for Charles Randolph-Wright’s Blue (2001), which starred Phylicia Rashad. As an Ambassador for Artist in Education at Berklee College of Music, she’s worked extensively with Berklee’s Electronic Production and Design Department and has featured Berklee artists and students in her recent performances at Joe’s Pub.
“Nona’s taste is so expansive,” Thake continues. “She’s constantly pushing the form, and she knows so many young artists of all genres that are doing new things. The only problem we have is that the year is only twelve months long! We could curate years and years of new projects that Nona has had some hand in, or has found some new artist she’s excited about, or a project that she’s working on. It’s unbelievable how prolific and constant the work is.”
“It’s really interesting for me to wrap all of the things that I love and enjoy, and things that challenge me as well,” adds Hendryx, who is also collaborating with acclaimed visual artists like Nick Cave and Carrie Mae Weems. “I’m working on a project with Hank Shocklee from Public Enemy, Berklee students, and a young choreographer Duane Lee Holland Jr., who is a professor at Boston Conservatory, which is now part of Berklee. We’re working on a new piece bringing technology, dance, and music together in a very interesting way.”
Of course, those collaborations are just a sliver of what Hendryx has in store for 2018 and offer a glimpse of what she might bring to Joe’s Pub as part of her Vanguard Residency. The one thing audiences can expect is the one thing she constantly generates through her music—transformation.