NONA HENDRYX / “Transformation”
What you have here to hear is the unsung hero of pop music, the baddest sister kicking it in an absolute commitment to the awesome liberatory power of music. Born Wynona Hendryx on October 9, 1944 in Trenton, New Jersey, what little fame she has comes from being a seminal part of Labelle and before that Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles. Although much of career has been consumed singing in the background, she is far more than a mere backup singer. She and her churchmate Sarah Dash started a duo called the Del Capris. At the same time, two friends (Patti Labelle and Cindy Birdsong) were in another group called the Ordettes. In 1962, urged on by producer Bobby Martin, the four singers formed the Bluebelles. Eventually, Cindy left to join The Supremes, and Patti LaBelle and in 1971 the Bluebells transformed into Labelle, and then after nearly fifteen years in the business they became an overnight success with “Lady Marmalade” in 1975. Guided by the management of British television producer Vicki Wickham, Labelle became the ultimate power trio of the seventies, an orgasmic celebration of female prowess. Nona Hendryx developed into the chief writer for this group whose signature color was silver and whose signature sound was soul poured out with hard rock intensity. But alas, the synergy could not last, the three strong personalities found themselves clashing more than they coalesced. The magnificent fusion of diverse sensibilities spun off into a frisson of divergent paths. Nona explained what happened in an interview in Blues and Soul Magazine: "We just outgrew each other and the kind of music we were making together. We'd always had different opinions, but in the past we'd always managed to work it out together. It finally got to the point when we all had different goals. Patti is very Gospel and R&B oriented, Sarah wanted to get into films and TV, and I was pushing for more rock. No matter what we wanted to do individually, LaBelle had to come first. In our 17 years together we never even had a vacation from each other." Each went solo, although only Patti LaBelle achieved commercial stardom. But check this, star or not, Nona Hendryx was the one who kept growing and kept pursuing her own muse never bothering to try to be what she was not. It was a long and difficult journey, but yet at sixty plus years she is still strong, still fierce, still Nona the Hendryx. “Transformation” is one of her songs I’ve always liked. Philosophically I dig the lyrics and musically I dig the vibe of the song. “Winds of Change” is a great musical tribute to a great freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela. The studio versions of both songs are all that existed for a long time until dance music diva Sandra St. Victor put together an aggregation called “Daughters of Soul” that included Simone, the daughter of Nina Simone; Indira the daughter of Chaka Khan; Lalah, the daughter of Donny Hathaway, plus Joyce Kennedy of Mother’s Finest and Nona Hendryx. Even as a sixty-year-old elder of this stellar aggregation, Nona easily takes the cake. There is a video available online of the “Daughters” concert. And dig, when you see it you will understand. All the others have talent, but Nona got charisma. Her music going further out there with a forwardness that makes you back up and say whoaaaaa! So we get live versions of the two aforementioned songs. But please do not stop there, go to the site and see Nona literally get down on the floor of the stage on a “shake your ass” number. (I mean literally lay down on the floor. I mean literally shake your ass.) And at the same time the music makes it clear that this is no hootchie mama sex show, but instead a full grown woman in full control of her sexuality. It will make you go “whoaaaaa!” —Kalamu ya Salaam Click here to view the “Daughters of Soul” concert video: http://www.daughtersofsoul.fabchannel.com/ The mark of an artist I'm not personally a Nona Hendryx fan, but I love her passion, her intensity, the way she obviously means what she says/sings. I checked out the Daughters of Soul show and all the other women seemed to be just going through the motions. Not that they were acting blah or anything, it was more like they were the lead singer for some house band on Bourbon St. just doing the regular nightly act for the crowd. If anything, they were over-performing. Acting like Broadway or something. But Nona just got up there and sang her music. Came real with it. She seemed like she was actually trying to communicate through her music. That's the mark of an artist (as opposed to an entertainer) and I dig it. —Mtume ya Salaam
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