THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
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Thank you for your time Nicole! Our traditional opening question, where in the States are you from?
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, Bucks County, PA.
How did music become a big part of your life?
The weekends were always filled with music. My sister and I would usually wake up to my mother playing piano or playing classical albums. So, we always had a true appreciation for classical music. On Sunday mornings, we would also sing along to gospel music albums by artists like Rev. James Cleveland, Rev. Clay Evans, Aretha Franklin, as well as tons of soul music albums from the '70s and '80s, including the Broadway musical album of The Wiz. Then on top of that my Aunt Debra is a professional singer so we sang her albums word for word and eventually would see her in Philly if she was touring. Otherwise, I was in school choirs and church choirs from at least 3rd grade.
You've mentioned your Aunt is one of your vocal influences - is music big in your family?
Yes, indeed she was. And with my mom being a pianist, she encouraged my sister and I to learn at least one instrument (ie: we had to!). Though, it was never an argument, we wanted to learn. With all that being said, I never thought I was going to grow up and become a singer. I didn’t attend an official “arts” school, so I never realized there were actual steps you could take to sing professionally. I always thought you just ‘got discovered'! But, I’ve been doing this full-time now for 18 years - wow ... I’m super blessed!
In 2017 you made a big impression at the London Jazz Festival - how are you feeling about returning this Fall to perform the music of Aretha Franklin?
Thank you, I had a great time touring the UK in 2017. Of course, I’m excited to perform this tribute to Aretha. So much of her music is the best of all time. They are legendary songs and completely full of soul!! Some may consider it a daunting responsibility but more than anything, I look at it as a celebration of one the best vocalists of all time. We are going to have a ball ...
What did Franklin mean to you growing up, and as a professional singer, what does she mean to you now?
Aretha’s voice was a big influence on me, particularly from a religious and spiritual perspective. Because I grew up listening to Amazing Grace, her gospel album, I found a connection to faith through her soulful, beautiful voice. Her voice exalted the glory and grace of God, as well as the love of God. And she didn’t hold back her feelings and expression ... I always valued that ‘truth.’
Then beyond religion, her heart-felt interpretation of every song she sang was really a lesson on how you must spiritually connect and MEAN every word you sing. Now, as a professional singer, I can see how, likely, the majority of pop, soul/R&B, rock, and gospel vocalists around the world have been influenced by Aretha’s songs and voice in some way. She’s The Queen of Soul. Every singer needs to learn to sing from their soul ... I imagine we’ve all learned from the expert.
You're particularly well known for your jazz music, and listening to your interpretations of Franklin's music, would you say you're celebrating Franklin through jazz?
No, while my recordings have mostly featured jazz songs, I would not categorize myself solely as a jazz singer. I try to give myself to the story of the song and try to make each song my own. Some might say my approach is popular/jazz/soul-tinged.
How do you feel when on stage performing these wonderful Franklin classics?
Her songs have an underlying sense of freedom and joy infused in them, so I can’t help but have a revelatory time singing these songs.
Do you have a favourite song you'll be performing at the concert?
So many of the songs are my favourites, but the one that jumps out is: ‘Rock Steady.’
What else do you enjoy doing when in London and the UK - do you have any plans for your trip this October?
When I travel, I love finding nature excursions or parks, so usually I’ll seek out a good jogging route that will include a park. A few years ago when I recorded my guitar duo album (with James Bryan) here in London, I believe I got lost in Bushy Park and had to take a cab back to my hotel. So, this time I’ll charge my phone well and ‘map’ my way back from whichever park I take on ...
What do you hope visitors to your October concert take away from the experience?
I want our audiences to be reminded of Aretha Franklin’s great legacy and fall in love with her music all over again.
Finally, what's the best thing about being Nicole Henry?
HA!! Funny question ... the best thing about being Nicole Henry is ... that my memory seems to only store lyrics, so I forget to hold onto grudges. And then, when my friends remind me of something fun that actually happened, I get to relive and rediscover the whole event all over again – like it’s a fresh feeling!! HA!! I LOVE IT!!!!
Nicole Henry will be accompanied by a UK 6-piece band to perform The Music of Arthe Franklin on Saturday October 12, at St John's Smith Square in London. Tickets are available from the box office - 020 7222 1061 - or via www.sjss.org.uk/events/music-aretha-franklin-queen-soul. Nicole will also be performing at The Apex Theatre (Bury St Edmunds, October 9), PizzaExpress Live at Maidstone (October 10), and the Dereham Memorial Hall (Norwich, October 11) - tickets available from jbgbevents.com.