Consider Nona Hendryx an ambassador for artistry at Berklee. If you know of this talented singer-songwriter, you probably know that she, along with Patti LaBelle and two other singers, gained fame as Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells in the '60s. A singer in a female band in the era of the Supremes and the Shirelles, she could have been a footnote in music history for the hit “Lady Marmalade” and other soul and R&B hits.
But Hendryx, born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1944, and a cousin of Jimi Hendrix (her family changed the spelling), didn’t stop there. She wrote and recorded for film soundtracks and, in the early '80s, fronted her own progressive art group, Zero Cool. Hendryx has collaborated with many musicians from Keith Richards to Talking Heads, written songs for Dusty Springfield and others, produced albums, and done some acting. Her own albums include The Heat (1985), You Have to Cry Sometime with Billy Vera (1992), and Mutais Mutandis (2012).
Although she was inducted in the Rhythm & Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1999, some of her later work has been new age. One collaboration with Berklee’s Electronic Production and Design Department was a mixture of Hendryx’s earlier work re-envisioned using the latest in music technology. As Michael Bierylo, chair of the department, said, ”She has given the students the opportunity to reinvent (her pieces) using their own musical language.” The work was presented as Nona Hendryx Re-Wired in March 2013. In 2011, she sang in the Berklee original musical B.B. King: Why I Sing the Blues along with Grammy-winning guitarist Vernon Reid and more than 20 Berklee students.