By Greg Carannante
If Amy Winehouse were the Wicked Witch of the West, Nicole Henry would be Glinda the Good. The singer’s engaging style just makes you feel So Good, So Right – which is the title of her latest album and which just happens to be so good that its rendition of Waiting in Vain recently won a Soul Train Award.
“Wow. Soul Train was such a legendary show and it changed the landscape of American music. To win is a huge honor to me,” she says of her first major American award, bumping the single Love Don’t Live Here Anymore into Billboard’s Smooth Jazz top 20 and iTunes’ Smooth Jazz Hot Tracks.
Also an award-winner in Japan and a headliner from New York to Shanghai, the Miami-based vocalist and UM grad will bring it all home next month at the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, courtesy of the Venetian Arts Society’s “Up Close & Personal” series. “It’s wonderful to be home,” she says, “but most importantly, to feel at home.”
To that end, a few homecoming frills are planned: For the April 24 Venetian Arts Society salon concert, Henry will wear the fashions of South Florida designer Marcello Vittoria, whose haute couture collection also will be previewed. The next morning’s master class will be hosted by local TV personality Julia Yarbough and include area student and professional singers.
That Henry received a Soul Train Award in the Traditional Jazz Performance category neatly pinpoints the coordinates of her musical heart. Beginning with her 2004 debut, she staked her claim as a supple interpreter of jazz standards, but on the latest award-winner, subtitled Classic Songs of the ’70s, she stretches her crystalline cords into soul, pop and rock. Whatever the style, she sounds exactly like she should: a velvety voice that’s gritty in just the right places, a little bit Aretha, a little bit Whitney. She names both, by the way, as her biggest influences.
Who is she listening to now? “Some of my latest favs are vocalists out of London – Laura Mvula, Lianne LaHavas. I also like Alice Smith,” she says. “I literally try to check out the many new albums that are released weekly. I use them to jog to. I just love great lyrics and great story telling and real emotions.”
Of her popularity in Japan, she says: “I find the audience [there] really enjoys my interpretations of the standards because I seek to find new ways to present them while still being sincere and true to the lyrics.”
Sincere and true – oh my, kind of sounds like Glinda, no?