Joan Henry Bio

Vocalist, actress, dancer, composer, poet-lyricist, artist, percussionist, choreographer, Water-Protector — and that’s not all…

Performing & Fine Arts and fostering awareness & interconnectedness in our world all flow together for Joan Henry.

Reviewed as the “extraordinary” and “magical” Grandma Aki  in Heather Henson & Ty Defoe’s AJIJAACK On Turtle Island (D. Avery, L. Mitchell, T. Defoe & K.Tarrant, composers) at the oldest working theatre in New York – the New Victory Theatre, Joan has been featured 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),  and Henson & Defoe’s spectacular CRANE: On Earth, In Sky, with other notable Off-Broadway reviews in CEDARS (La Mama ETC), as Lady Macbeth,  Paulina in The Winter’s Tale (Amerinda’s Native Shakespeare Ensemble), and as the wily Grandma Two Hawks  of Larissa FastHorse‘s Teaching Disco Square Dancing To Our Elders: A Class Presentation (Mill Hill Playhouse.) Concert appearances include the International Festival of the Voice, Clearwater & New York Music Festivals, and New York City’s annual Indigenous Peoples Day .  //  Her more distant past includes the National Tours of Camelot with Richard Harris and 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 Worldand appearances with Kenny Burrell, Pete Seeger, Paul Winter, Cornelius (Neal) Tate, Waylon Jennings, David Amram and Liam Ó Maonlaí, to name a few. Recordings include solo CDs and collaborations: traditional songs, stories co-produced with her son GC Yerry, contemporary works with longtime musical allies Gus Mancini, Dennis Yerry and other fellow artists, and the debut album of her straight-ahead jazz sextet with indigenous wings – SPIRITED – taking off from the Hudson Valley to rave notices

Something new is always in the works!

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 the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Opening Ceremonies for the United Nations – where she has since spoken on healing & spirituality among First Nations women and offered opening prayers & song for the International Day of Peace and the World Indigenous Forum. Her collaborations with Okla-Choctaw artist Jeffrey Gibson have ranged from filling the New Museum with 50 drummers clad in his compelling designs to taking over Times Square‘s Midnight Moment with traditional jingle dress dancer Sarah Ortegon – two days before coronavirus shut Broadway down. Most recently, she was honored to conduct a simple water ceremony globally for World Unity Week.

For her, Water Day is every day.

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 performer, her talents were honed and set free by the hands and works of Gerald Freedman & Graciela DanieleJerome Robbins & Allan JohnsonTalley BeattyDanny SloanLynn SimonsonRay Evans Harrell and John Mace of the Julliard School. As a writer, she has received two national Golden Poets awards and been honored as one of the Hudson Valley 100 Notable Artists.

She also credits Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ella Fitzgerald, Flora Purim & Milton Nascimento as key inspirations that influenced and guided her musical life:

“All four of these singers were grounded in their cultures and brought that through music 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.”

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…

Elisi Joan is honored to be a Northern Peace Delegate for the first Council of the Eagle, Condor, Quetzal & Colibri – dedicated to the realization of  World Peace described by ancient prophecies as the ensuing result of the unification of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.

When the travels of this work, her theatrical career, and traditional commitments don’t keep her on the move –  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 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 in the mountains of 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. And sing for our waters. Always.”


Water is Medicine
Water is Life