Sonya Hensley Biography
The Essential Sonya Hensley
Having regaled audiences in over 50 countries as featured headliner, principal performer or co-lead singer - including a 14 country tour of "Sophisticated Ladies" - Sonya Hensley is equally at ease singing jazz,R&B, Broadway, pop, Latin, and blues -and has long been driven by her desire to keep expanding her horizons and bring a fresh twist to the world's most beloved songs.
The Essential Sonya Hensley, the multi-talented performer's long awaited, highly anticipated debut, finds the singer at a crossroads of past, present and future. in one sense, she pays homage to the Bessies, Billies, and Ellas, who paved the way for her own success story, and all the legendary artists and musicians she has worked with over the years, including Les Paul, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, Gladys Knight, Jimmy Buffett and Ricky Martin. But the collection is more than a high-spirited, joyfully eclectic culmination of themany facets of her career. Featuring 11 dynamic new arrangements of the works of great composers Sonya admires and the fiery barnburner "Cest la Baby," penned by the singer and keyboardist Marc Gumberg, The Essential Sonya Hensley opens an exciting new frontier for her as a recording artist.
"I feel like the album is a way of paying homage to and carrying on the extraordinary gifts and legacies of those who have inspired my musical journey," says Sonya. "Les is gone, Lena is gone, as are some jazz composers and the legendary critic Leonard Feather, who gifted me with the incredible blues tunes I have recorded here, "Evil Gal Blues" and "Born on a Friday," and some of the musicians who originally helped me on these tracks. I feel as though I am conveying the fact that I have put the time in on what has evolved into a wonderful career, finding my way through the lane of historical people I am humbled and proud to have worked with. To me, this record completes a whole era for me and fulfills a promise, allowing me to now move on to recording more original material I have been writing over the years.
One of the most incredible aspects of the Los Angeles based recording is the fact that it's a labor of love that took20 years to come to fruition. Sonya started work on it in the 90's, but the whirlwind of being in constant demand from artists, touring company producers, film, TV and commercial producers and prominent venues all accross the world meant a constant stream of professional distractions - much appreciated though they were. Produced by Sonya and recorded at Mad Hatter Studios, Broball and Nolan Shaheed Studios - with Van Morrison's "Moondance" captured live in Tokyo at the Maduro Club at the Grand Hyatt - features the support of many prominent musicians, including Gumberg, bassist Larry Ball (Smokey Robinson, Natalie Cole, Nancy Wilson), drummer Ndugu Chancler (George Duke, Micheal Jackson, Santana) and guitarist Terry Evans (Ry Cooder, Eric Clapton, Bozz Scaggs).
The set list rolls like a historical sweep through the many styles of music Sonya has loved and performed over the years, starting with a playful, sassy take on "My Baby Just Cares For Me" (popularized by Nina Simone in 1958) and wrapping with a cabaret cersion of "Over the Rainbow." Along the way, she dives full throttle into Latinmusic ("Besame Mucho" and her original "Cest La Baby"),irrepressable blues (the feather penned"EvilGal Blues" and "Born on a Friday"), pop (via a sly acoustic medley of "This bitter Earth" and Carol King's "You've Got a friend" and jazz ( a "Nawlins" version of "My Baby Just Cares For Me" and a sensual take on Duke Ellington's"In A Sentimental Mood."
Before launching into details of her truly staggering resume, which includes having copy written over a hundred songs, performing in 54 countries and appearing in films ("The Cotton Club," "What's Love Got To Do With It," "Park Day," "Glitter") and on TV ("The Stranger Beside Me," "Sisters," "The Sopranos," "Weird Science"), Itmakes sense to let Sonya take us through reflections of some of her favoraite highlights, starting with her humble beginnings in Louisville ,Ky.
"I sang in the church choir as a teen," she says. "I was always singing to the radio, even writing lyrics over instrumentals. i started out as a dancer and won a silver medal during my teenage years for Dance in the National Act-So competition. I came to NYC on scholarship at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I always loved jazz in all my dance classes, listened to everyone from the blackbyrds and Lonnie Liston-Smith to Al Jarreau. In my first job as a dancer, we shared rooms and did eight dance numbers while the singers had their own suites and were paid more for performing only three numbers or so. So I was determined to really learn how to sing.
"I started listening as a young girl to Billie, Ella, Dinah, Sarah, and the first song I learned was "Satin doll," Sonya adds. "The first oneI ever sang on stage was "Sweet Georgia Brown." I have starred in a 14 country tour of 'Sophisticated Ladies" as well as 'Dreamgirls,' 'Sweet Charity' and 'George M' with Joel Grey. I also performed at Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall with Spanish singer Raphael, while doinghis choreography. I toured with Ricky Martin and Harry Belafonte and worked with Lena Horne in her Broadway show. I also was the first American jazz singer to play in Thailand featured attraction at the Eco retreat Trisara. When I played the Grand Hyatt Roppongi Hills in Tokyo before the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, they bought me a $900 Neumann mic and it became the top grossing room in the whole complex. In fact the 59th street area in New York whereDizzy's is located was modeled after the achetecture there."
In addition to being a popular performer in Asia and the U.S., Sonya has performed her cabaret nightclub act everywhere from Amsterdam and Munich to Paris, PuertoRico, Istanbul and Madrid. she has headlined at some of the world's most promininent venues,including The Iridium in NYC, The Cirigan Palace in Turkey, Trisara in Phuket, Thailand and CJW in Shanghai. Sonya has done commercials for the New York Lottery, Bud Bowl, and 7-Up(singing in Spanish),and has done music videos with the late Barry White, Cameo (a major featured role), Reba McEntire and herb Alpert. She toured Australia in a "Super 70's " show as the leadfemale vocalistof Rose Royce with Thelma Houston, Sister Sledge and KC and the Sunshine Band. her choreography credits include videos, for Rose Royce and the show "Louisiana Womren," for which she won a Dramalogue award.
"Wherever I travel, I can always share my joy, my heart and my artistry on the stage," Sonya says. "It is always a party when I have intimate settings and international audiences. they sing, they cry, they bring me gifts and we stay in touch. Sometimes, I'm not fully aware of the way I'm able to touch people until they come up after the show and talk to me, which may be common in the U.S. but is even more gratifying in culture where people tend to be very shy. The love they share with me tells me that I am truly giving them what I am meaning to give. It's not just about singing songs but touching people's hearts with love. That is a gift that fulfills me, and I'm grateful now to start the next phase of my journey as a recording artist so I can share those beautiful moments with more people than ever before"