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The great Nona Hendryx -- jamming with Lady Marmalade

By Liz Smith, Tribune Content Agency

Liz Smith

5:30 AM EDT, July 2, 2014

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"I WAS very lucky. I made most of the decisions about what I would sing. And I wrote. I wrote songs that I liked -- and still like -- to sing. I don't get bored. Even an old gal like 'Lady Marmalade." I mean, it's become an anthem, sort of like 'I Will Survive.' Of course, I think 'Lady Marmalade' is much for fun because it's about, you know, a hooker!"

That's the great R&B, soul, dance, funk, rock, art rock, hard rock and New Age diva Nona Hendryx. (Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Nona sounds rather British now. It's been a cosmopolitan life.) She plays piano and guitar, too.

I was so impressed when I saw Nona perform at the recent Literacy Partners gala. The force of her personality and the power of her voice turned Cipriani on 42nd Street into a '70s/'80s disco. (She opened with "Lady Marmalade" and then had the place screaming within seconds.)

I chatted with Nona the other day in anticipation of her one-night-only appearance at Manhattan's Joe's Pub on July 7. She said she'd like to do more, but is almost immediately flying to London to perform and record for her own label, Real Nois.

Her career has spanned the early 1960s till today -- some still know her best as part of LaBelle along with Sarah Dash and Patti LaBelle. But Hendryx has defied the decades and has embraced and succeeded in each and every changing style of music.

"I'd call my career an evolution. It just evolved. I had no idea about ever being a singular performer. I just wanted to be a part of a girl group. There was nothing planned. To me music was opening doors, exploring and finding out different things about yourself and life."

"You know, when the Bluebelles had their first hit, 'I Sold My Heart to the Junkman,' I was so silly. I really thought it was about some guy who was a garbage man. I was shocked when people told me it was about drugs!"

HENDRYX looks great and sounds great. How does she keep her voice and body? She laughs: "Well, I had a pretty long stretch and a pretty good time trying to destroy myself. I was young and selfish and self-destructive, maybe like most young people are. I tasted more than I should. My plate was overflowing. But, I grew up. I started going to the gym after a knee injury years ago and since then I've become something of a gym rat. And I take care of my voice as well as I can. It's a muscle. It has to be exercised. And I move a lot onstage."

I asked about Joe's Pub, which is a smaller venue? "Yes, that's going to be more intimate. I usually have a big sound behind me. But I'm going to do a lot of the music I've written and I'd like people to really listen to the lyrics and appreciate the melodies. Not a chanteuse, exactly, but closer to that than what I usually do. It's called 'Unhinged & Unplugged.'"

Nona has also written a children's book, acted, composed soundtracks, was one of the first artists to agree to perform at the first New York City Gay Men's Health Crisis Dance, and has collaborated with every other icon from Keith Richards to Cyndi Lauper. She has done, as they say, The Lot.

Talking again about staying healthy, Hendryx said: "I want to keep going until, well,"

I interjected: "Forever?"

"Hmmm, yes. I think forever would be very nice indeed."

OFF THE RADAR: For a while, I heard about some sort of "secret" project Warren Beatty was planning -- had been planning for years. It was a movie about the late aviator/movie mogul/womanizer/eccentric Howard Hughes in his later years.

But the details were as hard to pin down as Mr. Beatty is himself. So, I figured, eh, if it's true, it'll break in The Hollywood Reporter. It would be his first feature film since 2001. Well, turns out it is true, and the story broke in Roger Friedman's online column "Show Biz 411." I hate Roger. (Actually, I love him, and consider him the best entertainment reporter in the biz.)

Warren will play Howard. Listen to the rest of the cast -- Lily Collins, Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick, Oliver Platt, Martin Sheen and Annette Bening, aka Mrs. Beatty, the woman who did the impossible; married and tamed Hollywood's most charming and relentless Lothario.

But this is the most incredible thing. The movie was shot in 74 days. OK, maybe some of you don't think that's such an achievement, but Warren is a notorious perfectionist (why has he never worked with Barbra Streisand?) who has driven normally mild-mannered people to craziness with, among other things, his demands for retakes. During the production of 1981's "Reds," after requesting an 80th take from Maureen Stapleton, the great actress reportedly screamed, "Are you out of your f--king mind?!" Miss Stapleton went on to win a Best Supporting Oscar, so she doubtless forgave him. It's impossible to stay mad at Warren Beatty!

"Reds" was also nominated for Best Picture and Warren won an Oscar for directing. It took one year to make. (I recall the industry scuttlebutt of the time, declaring it a bomb prior to its opening. But Barry Diller was patient.)

That's why Warren bringing in the Hughes film at 74 days is so startling. Oh, at the moment, it is called "The Untitled Warren Beatty Project." The real title will come eventually.

The last time we saw Howard Hughes on film was Leo DiCaprio's take in "The Aviator." That was pretty good. (And Cate Blanchett won an Oscar channeling Kate Hepburn.) The inside word on Warren's Hughes take is "awesome." I can't wait.

SINCE THE New York Times just presented us with the coming perfect houses and apartments, I'd like to ask one question:

Why do designers want to obscure and hide the toilet paper in places hard to reach, way behind you, awkward to snap off and just generally inconvenient?

I know this isn't a highly civilized question and we're supposed to pretend toilet paper is obscene and shouldn't even be mentioned. This is unrealistic and foolish. Start putting toilet paper where normal people can easily reach it!

I know -- an odd way to end an entertainment column. We embrace the body eclectic.

(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)

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