Singer Nicole Henry channels the female greats in Vail Jazz annual Gala this Monday
When Miami-based vocalist Nicole Henry was tasked with isolating a handful of jazz’s female greats, she spent days ebbing the tally to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and Whitney Houston. As if this weren’t enough of a challenge, she then spent months narrowing down a set list of songs by these legendary ladies.
“It was definitely a 4.0-level of difficulty,” says Henry, who made her Vail debut last summer and quickly became the obvious choice to star in the upcoming Vail Jazz fundraising gala: The Great Ladies of Song.
“These women released 20 to 40-plus albums of their own. It really boiled down to picking my favorites as well as considering what might be considered their signature songs,” Henry says.
The final short list will be revealed only to those lucky few to attend the gala, tickets for which are limited and still on sale. Following her performances in Vail last summer, and really after every performance world-wide over the last few years, Henry, who has been dubbed “this generation’s first lady of jazz,” has a way of accruing impromptu fan clubs. After every show, she’s accosted by a steady string of audience members wanting a photograph or to impart their personal gratitude for her incredibly moving performance.
“That’s the reason that I sing,” she says. “We, in our own little way, want to either save ourselves or save the world as artists. We want to make a difference. The reason we want to inspire people is that we know we’re connected.”
As far as how each of the great ladies of song did their part in inspiring the world and establishing a sense of connection, Henry has this to say:
“Dinah had sass for days. I appreciate the blues inflection in her voice. And she always seemed to be in control of the situation. I also liked her selection of songs during the ‘50s. That's why Dinah really ruled the jukeboxes.”
When it comes to describing what set Billie Holiday apart, Henry says, “even in her early years, her voice had this maturity that seemed unimaginable.”
“Her heartache was palpable, her overall affectedness undeniable. Her note choices were organic and original. Those things created something mysterious and compelling. Her delivery always seemed to be full of intention.”
If Henry stumbled across a time machine, Ella Fitzgerald would be one of the first people she’d try to meet.
“I hear that she was just one of the sweetest, most easy-going and pleasant personalities ever,” Henry says. “She had an amazing ear, vocal control and ability. She could swing and sing the heck out of anything.”
There is some sparkle about each iconic singer that resonates with Henry, but as a child of the ‘80s, Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston are her absolute faves.
“Of course, in some way I relate to all of the vocalists, but I must say, I most naturally relate to Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin. I grew up singing along to their recordings and relating to their stories and styles.”
What style is that? Silly question when it comes to Franklin …
“Aretha … queen of SOUL!” Henry exclaims. “I love her gospel and soulful tone. Everything she sings is the TRUTH. Enough said.”
As for Houston, as the most award-winning female artist of all time, Henry describes her as “blending color lines and genres.”
“She changed the face of music with her gorgeous balladry. I loved Whitney for that.”
According to Henry, it was these ladies that paved the road for all women in music and for the jazz genre as a whole.
“It's wonderful to put a spotlight on their contribution to music and to learn how great their careers elevated the genres of jazz, soul, even gospel and popular styles,” she says. “It will be fun to share facts about their careers that people may not have ever known before. I'm excited that we have alumni of the Vail Jazz summer program joining me on stage for the performance. I've heard a lot about their talents and can't wait to collaborate with them. As always with Vail Jazz, it will be a great time for a great cause.”


Shauna Farnell, shauna@shaunafarnell.com, 970-376-7637
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