One-third of the pop/soul act Labelle (their big hit was "Lady Marmalade"), Nona Hendryx, by far and away, made the hippest solo records of any member of that group (the others being Patti LaBelle and Sarah Dash). After Labelle called it quits in 1976, Hendryx released her self-titled debut record, which was an amazingly strong amalgam of soul and hard rock. It also went almost completely ignored by critics, soul fans, and even Labelle fans, and Hendryx took her strong, clear, booming voice and did lots of session work in the late '70s and early '80s. It was here that she fell in with a hip crowd of musicians, including David Johansen, Peter Gabriel, Prince, Yoko Ono, Cameo, Garland Jeffreys, and Afrika Bambaataa, and sang backup for a time with Talking Heads. The association with the Heads' David Byrne led to her working with bassist/producer/conceptualist Bill Laswell, who, along with his band Material, helped Hendryx put together a second solo record entitled Nona. A strong album not as wild-eyed as her debut, Nona did spark greater interest in Hendryx's considerable talents, and after that, her solo career flourished to the point where she no longer needed studio work to supplement her income.
In 1984, Hendryx again collaborated with Laswell on The Art of Defense. She returned with Heat, produced by Arthur Baker in 1985. The latter album featured a stellar cast of players including guitarists Ronnie Drayton and Keith Richards, bassists Doug Wimbish and Bernard Edwards, saxophonist Lenny Pickett, and vocalists Will Downing and Gang of Four's Hugo Burnham. Female Trouble appeared in 1987 with a slew of producers and featured guest spots from Gabriel and David Van Tieghem.
In 1989, Hendryx shifted gears; she issued the almost solely keyboard-driven Skin Diver on former Tangerine Dream member Peter Baumann's Private Music label. After a three-year break, Hendryx surprised again with You Have to Cry Sometime, in 1992. The album, a collection of soul covers in collaboration with Billy Vera, was issued as part of a benefit offering 50-percent of its profits to the Rhythm and Blues Foundation charity. Exhausted by touring, switching labels, and the changing nature of the music business in general, she stopped releasing her own records for the remainder of the decade.
Hendryx returned to studio work in the '90s and throughout the 21st century, appearing on recordings by Lisa Lisa, Morgan Heritage, and the reunited Bush Tetras, as well as on soundtrack recordings.
LaBelle reunited in 2007 and issued Back to Now on Verve in 2008. The set was produced by the legendary Philadelphia International team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and included several Hendryx compositions. She also scored playwright Charles R. Wright's BLUE, guested on Terri Lynne Carrington's Mosaic Project album, and contributed a cut to the soundtrack for the film Precious.
Apparently, the Labelle reunion was the impetus for Hendryx to begin recording and touring as a solo artist again. She released the jazz-funk It's Time in collaboration with Kahil El'zabar's Ethnics in 2011 to critical acclaim. In the summer of 2012, she followed it with the self-produced Mutatis Mutandis, for Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe label. ~ John Dougan and Thom Jurek