20 Questions: Nona Hendryx

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.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I saw this movie called Children of Heaven (1997). It’s about this brother and sister and they only had this one pair of shoes that they had to share to go to school. The brother was supposed to take his sister’s shoes to be repaired and he stopped to look at something and put them down. As he was looking at something in this window, somebody else came out and picked up these packages of stuff and the shoes were on there. He turned around to get the shoes and they were gone.

He couldn’t tell his father because his father had no money. They were very poor so he and his sister devised this plan where they would switch off shoes. The sister would go to school first and run home as fast as she could so that he could run to school to his classes with these shoes. They had a contest, running this sort of school race, and one of the things in the school race was a pair of sneakers that he could win. That’s the movie that made me cry. I was weeping away!

2. The fictional character most like you?

Thomas Aquinas, who supposedly wasn’t fictional but was one of the disciples. He was better known as Doubting Thomas. I think, based on that title, that would be me.

3. The greatest album ever?

That’s an impossible question to answer because at least ten went through my brain. I’d have to say there are many or there’s no such thing.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

I haven’t seen the new Star Trek and I hear it’s brilliant. I’m a Star Wars fan but more of a Star Trek fan. I’m a Trekkie. It was the next science fiction cinema that happened in my lifetime from when I was a toddler watching Buster Crabbe flying through space in this tin foil spaceship.

I’ve always been interested in science fiction and science. Star Trek was made for me. I lived for the day I could be beamed from one place to the next. The idea of being able to go to the moon was exciting.

5. Your ideal brain food?

I would say a book that includes metaphysics and spiritual information.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I guess sustaining a music career this long — over 45 years — that would be one of the things that I would be most proud of, in terms of my career. In terms of my life, I think it’s much more about being able to change and grow.

7. You want to be remembered for…??

I don’t know. I don’t think I really want to be remembered for anything because I think, with time, there are very few people who can impact the world in such a big way that they would be remembered.

You’d have to be Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King. You’d have to really become somewhat of a martyr.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

The people that I just named. Somebody like Rosa Parks, of course. There are many.

Einstein is inspirational to me. Edison. My English teacher, who really was a catalyst for the fact that I was involved with and fell in love with writing poetry, which led to the possibility of writing music because of the poetry in the lyrics.

Then they’re just some everyday people. My mother was a huge inspiration for me in that she was able to, against very great odds, give unconditional love to her children and do everything she could for us to survive. I would say that she is one of my greatest inspirations. Then there are people who have done some amazing, great things in life who inspire me.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The universe. I don’t think you can get any bigger than that. Everything else is really small. That’s about as big a job as you could do.

Photo (partial) by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

10. Your hidden talents…?

I’m really good at fixing things. My brother taught me how to fix televisions (although they don’t have them in the same way anymore) and do carpentry work.

I think a lot of people don’t know that I’m really, really a techno-geek. I sew and I cook and I do all stuff like that. I’m sort of the hybrid of the left-brain, right-brain person.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

Somebody said to me, actually it was Peter Baumann from Tangerine Dream, he said to me, just off the cuff, “Just be yourself”. That’s one of the best pieces of advice I was ever given and that I followed.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

I think the house for my mother because it allowed so many other things to begin to happen. My first instrument would be high up there too, but I think the house because it led to many other things and new possibilities in life.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?

I feel best in either no clothes, because I would prefer living in the middle of the Amazonian jungle where you would not have to wear any clothes, or in Gerbeau. I would wear it everyday if I could.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

I don’t even know whether I’d go to the Ritz. My friends. Possibly some of my family but mainly my friends because that’s who I would enjoy spending time with.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

I would time travel to the edge of the universe, of the solar system, just to see where it ends. If I could travel backwards, I’d travel to the beginning of the Big Bang, as it’s known, just to see how it began.

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.