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Arts and Culture

'Sassy' and Father Ignited Yoseph Henry's Love Of Music

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Provided by Yoseph Henry
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Yoseph Henry plays Jazz Upfront Friday night.

When vocalist Yoseph Henry plays Jazz UpFront this weekend, he'll bring his deep love of — and history with — gospel music with him. He says his first taste of music was in his church.

The Western Illinois jazz studies major tells WGLT his music education began at a young age when he and his siblings were supposed to be washing the dishes. He says when they instead began singing, his father pulled out an old cassette recorder.

“Anyone who knows anything about recording, it's hard to sound good on a cassette tape from the early 80s. We’d be like, ‘Oh, that doesn't sound anything like the recording of the professional singers we grew up listening to,’” he laughed heartily. “So, from that point on, he sat us downstairs teaching us how to sing around the piano and acapella and things like that. So, I've been singing since I was about five.”

Like many church-centered African American homes of his generation and before, he said gospel music ruled his early childhood. He recalls Kenny Latimore’s “For You” as his introduction to R&B music.

“And the only reason I heard it was because my sister was asked to sing it at someone's wedding,” recalled Henry. “As a lover of music, I fell in love and said ‘this song is nice. It sounds good. Of course, my sister sang, and she sounded amazing. So, I kind of started gravitating towards more secular music around that time.”

That was around his sophomore/junior years in high school. He said he gravitated to jazz after hearing Sarah Vaughn do her signature scat at the end of “Perdido” from a documentary called “That's Black Entertainment.”

“I was hooked,” said Henry. “And I ran out and what little money I had I started to buy jazz CDs and Sarah Vaughan was the first jazz release I ever bought. It’s history from there.”

Henry said it was Vaughan’s voice and especially the scatting that stopped him in his tracks.

“I said, ‘What is that?’” he laughed while recalling hearing the song for the first time. “It smashed my ear. And it was something so different from gospel music, and it was a different challenge. I gravitated toward it because I've always been so fascinated with the way we use our voices as singers in this and different styles. And so, jazz was a challenge for me and, and I gravitated toward it because of the beauty of the music.”

Henry is not traditional student at Western Illinois University, serving two stints in Iraq as a Marine. It’s not a path the son of a Vietnam veteran and brother in ROTC expected to take.

“I wanted nothing to do with the military. I'm going to college right after high school. And I got accepted into Northeastern University right in Chicago. It was just a twist of fate I went into the military when I did. Somehow, I ended up in the delayed entry program to join the Marine Corps. I was working downtown at a Chicago Public Schools in their central office, and then 9/11 happened while I was downtown … everyone was panicking. That kind of changed my life. From there, I went to boot camp on Jan. 15, 2002. I went to Iraq a few months after I left basic and Marine Corps combat training,” said Henry.

His time in the military has colored the music he plays today.

“The first time I was in Iraq, I used to have to stand watch,” said Henry. “Those watches were long. Throughout my entire military career … from boot camp through Iraq. I never forget … I was in boot camp. I hadn't heard from my parents and I felt alone. There's a gospel song by The Edwin Hawkins Singers called ‘Joy Joy.’ That song carried me through a large portion of boot camp. And so, from boot camp, gospel music kind of helped comfort me. The first time being in Iraq, the first time standing watch, and having to mark the time in a way that helped me keep my sanity and stay awake. Because it could be catastrophic if you fall asleep on watch.

"And so, I remember the last 10 minutes of my watch were the hardest. And I would sing to myself a song by Erykah Badu called ‘Green Eyes,’ which is just a little bit over 10 minutes, and that would get me through the last portion of my walk. So, my military experience is largely colored by different musical events and things like that.”

Yoseph Henry returns to Jazz UpFront in downtown Bloomington Friday night.

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