Vocalist, actress, dancer, composer, poet-lyricist, artist, percussionist and choreographer, it’s hard to think of a style she doesn’t cover. Featured this year in works by Rachel Chavkin (Primer for a Failed Superpower), Jonathan McCrory (How the Light Gets In / Water Is Life, T. Defoe & T. Sinutoke composers) the world premiere of Heather Henson & Ty Defoe’s spectacular CRANE: On Earth, In Sky & AJIJAACK On Turtle Island (D. Avery & L. Mitchell composers) and at the annual Summer HOOT music festival, Joan Henry has enjoyed notable reviews Off-Broadway in CEDARS at La Mama Experimental Theatre, as Lady Macbeth, and as Paulina in The Winter’s Tale for Amerinda’s Indigenous Shakespeare Ensemble in NYC. Previous credits also include the National Tour of Camelot with Richard Harris, the West Side Story 30th Anniversary Company, TV-movie Everyday Heroes, Walt Disney’s Pocahontas & LionsGate’s Blood Red Earth; a slew of recordings including two jazz albums with stellar jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette – Earthwalk and Music for the Fifth World – alongside John Scofield and Living Colour’s Will Calhoun & Vernon Reid, and appearances with Kenny Burrell, Pete Seeger, Paul Winter, Cornelius (Neal) Tate, Waylon Jennings and David Amram, to name a few . Her works also include solo CDs and collaborations: traditional songs, stories co-produced with her son GC, contemporary works with longtime musical allies Gus Mancini, Dennis Yerry and other fellow artists, and a new, straight-ahead jazz sextet – Spirited – taking off from the Hudson Valley to rave notices with their debut album Uprising. Something new is always in the works…
Formal studies began at age 4 with years of conservatory training in the District of Columbia and years with the professional Children’s Theatre of Washington. Moving north to NYU School of the Arts, she was later on scholarship with Vocal Arts Foundation (NYC), the Jacob’s Pillow Jazz Project (MA), Magic Circle Opera Repertory Ensemble (NYC) and countless professional dance studios in New York and Boston. As a writer she has received two Golden Poets awards (’89,’90) and been honored as one of the Hudson Valley 100 Notable Artists(’09).
As a performer, her talents have been honed and set free by the hands and works of Gerald Freedman & Graciela Daniele, Jerome Robbins & Allan Johnson, Talley Beatty, Danny Sloan, Lynn Simonson, Ray Evans Harrell and John Mace of the Julliard School. She credits Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ella Fitzgerald, Flora Purim & Milton Nascimento as key inspirations that influenced and guided her musical life, explaining,
“Buffy’s career in particular showed me that it was possible to do what I do – to blend our native culture and ideas into contemporary music and be both successful and in integrity with it. She was someone I could identify with, and she encouraged me later in life… All four of these singers, though, did that in their own way – they all had something to say, they all understood their voices as instruments of a Master Orchestrator in relationship to the rest of their band, and all four dissolved barriers with the simple power of their voices.”
Ms. Henry is both dekanogisgi (traditional song-carrier) and hahesh’kah (lead drummer), and a Native Women’s Traditional dancer. Encouraged by her elders, she founded acclaimed traditional drum group Mothers of Nations Singers & Dancers – the first women’s drum ever invited to the National Native American Veterans Powwow in Washington DC and the first to preside at Indigenous Peoples’ Day Opening Ceremonies for the United Nations – where Ms. Henry has since presented on healing & spirituality among First Nations women and offered opening prayers & song for the International Day of Peace and the World Indigenous Forum.
When her theatrical career and traditional commitments don’t keep her on the move – styling solo, with Spirited, with Native/jazz/fusion band Noyeh-Ongeh, Mother Earth or even her fellow drummers of the Percussion Orchestra Of Kingston – Ms. Henry teaches, presents and consults at schools, universities and museums from Vassar College to the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in New York City; works with women & youth in indigenous communities in the US & Canada; burns excess energy teaching dance, Zumba Fitness and the up-and-coming DXF – Dance Xross Fitness; and finds herself constantly exploring some new musical edge. A past director of youth empowerment and arts-in-healing programs in upstate New York, she is generally surrounded by youth of all ages… Joan Henry and her family make their home on Spruceton Mountain in the Northern Catskills, where they welcome this season’s Thunders. It is her prayer that she honors Tsimilano & Qwat’xwu’maat of Musqueam, Shanadii of Jicarilla, her own Grandmas Kathleen Elicia & Valentine Mabel, and the many other elders who have guided her, by continuing “to sing our world new every morning – and sing it to sleep each night.“
– ᎠᎹ ᏅᏬᏘ – AMA NVWOTI – MNI WIČONI –
Water is Medicine. Water is Life.
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