J. Henry is his stage name, but Journell Henry began playing music at a young age. His mentors, Pierre Poree and Brian Graber, were both jazz musicians. Poree is J. Henry’s uncle, and Graber was his music teacher.
“They taught me the basics,” J. Henry said. “They exposed me to a whole different side of music.”
His high school didn’t have a music program, and J. Henry said he and the rest of the music students were fortunate to be able to work with Graber. “A lot of kids didn’t have that opportunity,” he said.
As he continued to play and perform, J. Henry was granted an opportunity to live out a childhood dream — performing on “Showtime at The Apollo.” He and his brother, Cardell “Creole King” Henry, frequently competed in local talent shows with their group, Cristal.
In 2000, they came in second place in a show that would lead to the Apollo, bringing an end to their chance to hit the historic Harlem stage — or so they thought.
“An Amateur Night producer ran me down after the show,” J. Henry said. The producer still wanted the group on the show, but they would have to pay their own way to get there. With the community’s help through a raffle, the group was able to take the trip and the stage. They sang “These Are The Times” by R&B group Dru Hill, winning first place the first time and second place the next.
“It was quite an experience just to be able to do something you saw on TV,” he said. “It was a motivational thing for us because it did allow us to see that you really can accomplish anything. Nothing is too far-fetched for you.”
Five years after the Apollo experience, Hurricane Katrina changed everything. Uprooted from his hometown, J. Henry came to Georgia. He lost everything in New Orleans and wound up homeless three times as he tried to rebuild his life.
However, he looks back at this challenging time in his life as motivation. “I use it more as a testimony that to try to get sympathy from people. It’s a testament that no matter what happens, you can always bounce back from it. Usually those types of experiences are fuel for you and it really drives you to want to do better and to work hard to become successful.”
Seven years later, J. Henry has found stability and a new life in Marietta. He said the jazz styling in Atlanta is more “acid fusion” than traditional New Orleans jazz, but he has been able to find his niche in the Peach State.
“Long Time Coming” is his latest album. He performs around the Atlanta area, including some Saturday nights Masani Gourmet Southern Cuisine at 915 Cobb Parkway, and in his hometown two to three times annually.
When this artist takes the stage, it becomes the J. Henry Experience. He also collaborates with other musicians and vocalists.
“Each musician adds a different element,” he said. “It allows you to never get the same experience twice.”
J. Henry said audiences can expect a lot of energy and crowd interaction. “I encourage everyone to come out and expect a great show. I can guarantee it,” he said.
The Atlanta Jazz Festival is presented by the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs. For more information, visit www.atlantafestivals.com.