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Music Talk | Nona Hendryx and Jamila Woods with Ayana Contreras

May 22, 202212:30 pm - 2:30 pm

About the Event

Between live performances in Nick Cave and Jack Cave’s The Color Is, musicians Nona Hendryx and Jamila Woods sit down for a conversation moderated by author and DJ Ayana Contreras. The trio reflect on the imprint Hendryx’s and Labelle’s music made on a new generation of Black female vocalists and songwriters and discuss the musical home-away-from-home that Labelle found in Chicago during their touring years. Contreras brings her encyclopedic knowledge of Chicago music history to the discussion, providing context for these personal stories. Accompanied by piano and Contreras spinning vinyl records, Hendryx and Woods riff on the songs that have shaped their lives and the undying spirit of Black creativity in Chicago.

MCA Music Talks pair powerhouse musicians with prolific artists, activists, writers, and thinkers to take on big ideas in art and culture. These intimate gatherings of performance and conversation reveal their art world anecdotes, shared ideas, and creative inspirations.

This project is organized by Tara Aisha Willis, Curator, Performance and Public Practice, with Laura Paige Kyber, Curatorial Assistant.

About the Speakers

portrait of Nona Hendryx

Nona Hendryx. Image courtesy of the artist.

Nona Hendryx is a revolutionary art-rock, new-wave goddess. The vocalist, songwriter, musician, and multimedia artist tackles social issues, love, and politics in her work. Hendryx’s career spans decades of sound and style evolution. Longtime Hendryx fans know her as a member of the groundbreaking group Labelle and the writer behind their #1 worldwide hit “Lady Marmalade.” Hendryx came into her own as a solo artist, post-Labelle, on rock-infused albums. Her album Mutatis Mutandis (changing those things which need to be changed) lends necessary gravitas to a striking rendition of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” with a smoky vocal tessitura somewhere between funk and the end of the stratosphere. Hendryx is an Ambassador for Artistry in Music for Berklee College at Boston Conservatory and BerkleeNYC. She curated and performed in a production created for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nona Hendryx and Disciples of Sun Ra in the Temple of Dendur. Currently she is composing music for the revival of Blue, a play with music, and has written two compositions for Roundabout Theater’s Broadway debut production of Trouble in Mind, written by Alice Childress and directed by Charles R. Wright. She also received a grant from Jazz South Arts to compose music for a new play, Young Nerds of Color, written by Melinda Lopez and directed by Dawn Meredith Simmons at Boston’s Central Square Theater. Hendryx is passionate about music, visual art, and technology, and continues to be a prolific artist.

Jamila Woods

Jamila Woods is a Chicago-bred singer/songwriter and award-winning poet whose inspirations include Gwendolyn Brooks and Toni Morrison. Following the 2016 release of her debut album HEAVN, Woods received critical acclaim for her singular sound that is both rooted in soul and wholly modern. Her 2019 sophomore release, LEGACY! LEGACY!, featured 12 tracks named after writers, thinkers, and visual artists who have influenced her life and work. She is a Pushcart Prize–winning poet and coeditor of BreakBeat Poets: Black Girl Magic (2018). Her poetry was recently published in the Library of America anthology African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song (2020). Woods recently made her television debut, performing “SULA (Paperback)” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on January 6, 2021.

Ayana Conteras

Ayana Contreras is a cultural historian, memory worker, radio DJ, and archivist. An avid collector, with more than eight thousand vintage vinyl records, she hosts the Reclaimed Soul program on WBEZ and Vocalo Radio in Chicago. She is also a columnist for DownBeat magazine, and her writings have been published in Chicago Review, Oxford American, and Bandcamp Daily, among others. Her book on post–Civil Rights Era cultural history, titled Energy Never Dies: Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Chicago, was published December 2021 through University of Illinois Press.


Lead support for the 2021–22 season of MCA Performance and Public Programs is provided by Elizabeth A. Liebman.

Major support is provided by the Alphawood Foundation and by Julie and Larry Bernstein.

Generous support is provided by Lois and Steve Eisen and The Eisen Family Foundation; Ginger Farley and Bob Shapiro, Martha Struthers Farley and Donald C. Farley, Jr. Family Foundation, N.A., Trustee; Susan Manning and Doug Doetsch; Carol Prins and John Hart/The Jessica Fund; and Anonymous.

Additional generous support is provided by Ms. Shawn M. Donnelley and Dr. Christopher M. Kelly, Cynthia Hunt and Philip Rudolph, Ashlee Jacob, Anne L. Kaplan, Sharon and Lee Oberlander, D. Elizabeth Price and Lou Yecies, and Enact, the MCA’s Performance & Public Programs affinity group.

The MCA is a proud member of the Museums in the Park and receives major support from the Chicago Park District.

Major support for this Music Talk is provided by Christie’s.