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03 May 2022

Judy Henske, Influential 60s Singer-Songwriter, Dies At 85

Judy Henske
Judy Henske 1963, Alamy
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Judy Henske, a key figure in the 60s folk-revival scene, died on 27 April in hospice care in Los Angeles after a long illness, according to her husband, Craig Doerge.

Henske was born 20 December 1936, in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. By 1959, she had moved to San Diego, where she performed at local coffee houses before moving on to venues in Los Angeles, gaining notice for her no holds barred delivery of folk ballads.

While performing in Oklahoma City in 1962, Henske was recruited by ex-Kingston Trio member Dave Guard to join the Whisky Hill Singers, with whom she recorded an album. Through her manager, the notorious Herb Cohen (who also managed Frank Zappa), she was signed as a solo artist to Elektra Records by Jac Holzman, releasing a pair of albums – Judy Henske and High Flying Bird – that combined folk, blues, jazz, and stand-up comedy.

Her self-titled debut, a recording of a nightclub performance, highlighted the offbeat humour in her live performances with musical arrangements by Onzy Matthews; the second featured Billy Edd Wheeler’s High Flying Bird, a minor hit in 1963 that was later covered by several bands, including Jefferson Airplane.

Henske went on to release a Little Bit of Sunshine… Little Bit of Rain on Mercury in 1965 and The Death Defying Judy Henske the following year on Reprise. From the mid-60s, Henske focused on songwriting. Her album with first husband Jerry Yester, Farewell Aldebaran was released on Zappa’s Straight label in 1969 and became a cult favourite. In 1971, she co-founded and recorded with Rosebud, a folk-rock quintet that released an eponymous album on Straight Records.

Following that, Henske turned away from recording and performing in favour of raising her family, but she continued to write lyrics in a songwriting partnership with composer and second husband Craig Doerge. The pair’s most notable hits included Yellow Beach Umbrella (covered by Three Dog Night and Bette Midler) and Might as Well Have A Good Time, covered by Crosby, Stills & Nash.

In 1999, Henske returned to recording with the album Loose In The World, followed by She Sang California in 2004. In 2007, Rhino Records released Big Judy: How Far This Music Goes, 1962-2004, a 2CD career retrospective. In her final years, Henske worked on her memoirs and continued to write songs.

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