by Scarlet Waters
Before Madonna, before Sinead O’Connor, before Joan Jett, there was Nona Hendryx. You would probably first recognize her as one-third of the group Labelle, whose other two members were Patti LaBelle and Sarah Dash.
They are best known for their 1974 smash gold hit Lady Marmalade which has of course stood the test of time and crossed generational notoriety, having been remade by singer Christina Aquilerra along with Mya, Pink and Lil’Kim for the movie Moulin Rouge! (2001).
The chorus in the song is “voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?” which in French means "Do you want to sleep with me (tonight)?” and this is very symbolic of the revolutionary feminine stance that Labelle took in their fashion and presentation, and which Nona Hendryx maintained throughout her musical career.
They were described as “glam rock space age divas” and would generally open for white Rock & Roll acts like The Rolling Stones and The Who. Their songs contained sexual and politically charged messages, which was unheard of at the time for girl groups, and the main songwriter for the group was Nona Hendryx.
After Labelle, broke up, Nona moved on through a varied musical journey releasing solo albums, forming and singing with different groups including Zero Cool, and Material. She remained mainly identified with Rock & Roll and throughout her career worked and recorded with Talking Heads, Dusty Springfield, Heart, Keith Richards, and Tangerine Dream. But she has also worked with Ashford & Simpson, Lisa Lisa, Cameo, Afrika Bambaata, Lalah Hathaway and Caron Wheeler, and her songs have been covered by Santana and Jefferson Starship.
Nona’s powerful husky alto voice and outrageous costumes like in the song Why Should I Cry? easily places her in the un-sung category of artists who slipped under the radar for years. Put your hands together and say thanks for YouTube and take a trip back in time to check out this decades under-rated Black Rock Goddess.