A little over a year ago, I told you about the jazz-based children’s album from Portland singer-songwriter-pianist Lori Henriques, How Great Can This Day Be; it was recently announced that the album has been nominated for a Grammy award for Best Children’s Album of the year. I gave her a call to see what else has happened in the past year.
Shortly after the review of her album ran on GeekDad, Henriques was profiled on NPR’s All Things Considered, which resulted in an increase in sales and a higher profile for Henriques. “It helped that it was a week before Christmas,” she explained, “people would order, and I’d write back and offer to sign it, and everyone was so kind; many adults said they bought it for themselves.”
Her album was also a favorite on Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings website, which had previously reported on her science-themed album, The World is a Curious Place to Live.
In April, Henriques traveled to Washington DC to attend a lecture by Dr. Jane Goodall, the subject of her song, “Dream Jane Dream.” This was possible because of a previous highlight of her career; in 2014, the video for her song “Dinosaur” (featuring art by her brother Joel) was the second-place winner of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center’s 2014 NESCent Evolution Film Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina. The prize was a travel allowance of up to $500 for travel expenses to attend a scientific meeting of her choice. She told me that the high point of the evening was when Dr. Goodall stayed afterward to meet everyone who wanted an autograph or photo, and made a point of bringing all the children in attendance up first and giving them special attention. Goodall explained the importance of engaging children and getting them involved.
A few months later, Dr. Goodall came to Portland to speak to a children’s organization. At one point, Goodall explained how going to Africa to study the chimpanzees had transformed her. Seeing the environmental problems and their effect on the apes, the former Stanford professor said, “I went over there a professor, I came back an activist.” Henriques was invited to perform at the event, and had the opportunity to sing her tribute song; Goodall’s response was “you transported me to my childhood.”
Henriques embraces the call to activism, but she says, “I don’t want to be preachy. I find… it does seem that if I’m not pushing, it’s better received.”
Her Youtube channel features videos of several songs from her albums, all of which were created by her brother, artist Joel Henriques, who also provides a whistling solo and plays the saw on the album. “Joel is marvelous,” she says. The video for the title track is an abstract piece in which the brightly colored shapes from the album cover bounce and dance to the music. “‘Groove‘ is my kids and their cousins dancing in the park, it’s very Sesame Street.” There’s also a slideshow set to “Dream Jane Dream” and videos for a number of songs from previous recordings.
“The ceiling for children’s entertainment is pretty low,” Henriques says, “the more people we have who are elevating the genre, the better it is for all of us. That’s why I’m so grateful to the Grammys; I think they are an awesome and kind organization, and everyone is nice and helpful and kind.”
Now hard at work on a new album, which she describes as “funky jazz; Trombone Shorty meets Steely Dan,” one of the questions she asked herself was whether to include another tribute song to follow after her Jane Goodall tribute. “That was so powerful, how could I do that again?” Instead of choosing to write about a world-renowned figure like Dr. Goodall, Henriques decided that the best approach was to be genuine and compose a tribute to somebody who was a major influence on her own work, pianist-songwriter Dave Frishberg, probably best known for “I’m Just a Bill” and other songs for ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock series, though his body of work is considerably more varied. Frishberg is still performing in Portland, though he has slowed down a bit due to age; Henriques was hoping to get him to play on the song, but it was not to be. “I where I talk to him,” she explains, telling how her parents took her to see one of his performances when she was very young. “Years later, when I started [writing songs], I sounded like him.” Her song is simply a way of thinking him for being an inspiration.
She is very pleased with the album; one of the songs is “a funky song about loving yourself,” she tells me, “great veteran guitarist Dan Balmer played on the song, and he said ‘I like myself! One Lori song, and I like myself!'”
The Grammy Awards will take place on February 15 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles; the “Best Children’s Album” award is part of the “Premiere Ceremony” that takes place prior to the televised awards. This pre-telecast segment is held at the Microsoft Theater, which is adjacent to the Staples Center.