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The unique colors we shine and contribute in life, through a smile, a nod, a twinkle of an eye, create a beautiful image

and paint a gorgeous picture of life. We create art from within just by being.
By Stacey Kumagai

I stopped inside a Starbucks in my local neighborhood for coffee. Everyone was busy, chatting away and blenders were whirling about making Frappuccino’s. Little kids were screaming outside chasing pigeons. People dressed in their Sunday best were either going to or just coming back from church. Fitness fanatics were wearing spandex and getting their morning reward or caffeine fix. The world was spinning. Life was happening. All the while, off in a corner, sat a very graceful, handsome gentleman with a cane. He had on a stylish hat and wore glasses. His beard was grey. He looked like a teddy bear. He was sitting there, telling a story and also listening intently to a young ‘cyber’ junkie yammering on who may or may not have known who he was. He had a style about him, a presence. His friendly demeanor was infectious and contagious. He was unassuming. Just sat there without a care in the world, just being himself. Being a jazz/blues lover, I tried with all of my being to retain my composure because I recognized him. The impactful aura of being in his presence with about 60 or so Starbucksters roaming about and no one even bothered to notice him in the room or know whose presence they were in the company of. A legend. Not acknowledged? Forgotten? It was none other than one of the greatest jazz singers in history, Bill Henderson. Bill Henderson is what is known as one of the world’s “Last Great Jazz Singers” on the planet. To understand the accomplishments of this Chicago native, you have to go to his website www.billhendersonmusic.com. Making his mark as the lead vocalist for The Count Basie Band is where his impressive career path dazzles. Playing at the Apollo with Dizzy Gillespie, performing and touring with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones and many others, the list is endless for this multitalented man that I happened to be in the same room with. I had the honor to see this man in the flesh. Not in a concert setting. Not singing with Count Basie or the Oscar Peterson Trio or the vast array of historical musical moments…but sitting there, exchanging and storytelling. Bill was celebrating the moment. He was taking in life, in the here and now. It wasn’t important he rattle off who he was or what he’s done or what he was about to do. He was sitting there living life as Ella Fitzgerald was singing in the background and I was tapping my toe. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw me tapping. He maintained the conversation he was having – but I knew the twinkle. The twinkle in his eye was thankful that someone even

gave a damn about his era of music and that I was moved by it. While he was not performing on this particular Ella track that was playing it didn’t matter. What mattered to him was that the music was embraced and that’s all he needed to know. People can still appreciate this music today. It lives on. What was happening here? As an artist sits, an artist knows that deep within his soul, his spirit soars when he does what he loves. The rest of the time, he can enjoy life and soak up the elements as inspiration to continue to have the life experience in his soul to do what he does. The simple liberation about the arts is being able to express yourself in ways the daily grind of life does not enable you to. No one and nothing can take away the talents you were born with. Not even a boring day job, can take away the continued cultivation of that talent you have that burns from within for you. Whether or not your name is in lights, what matters is that you do what you love and what inspires you. Whether you are Blind Lemon Jefferson or Bill Henderson or someone who plays a harmonica in a garage or performs on a street corner, the common denominator is found in your soul, you are a musician. If you paint walls in your house or spray paint your bicycle or paint on a canvas or maybe you’re Michelangelo and paint on ceilings, the common denominator is in your soul, you are a painter. If you are five years old playing with Play-Doh or you mold clay and showcase your work in a gallery, your soul knows you are a sculptor. One thing stands firm and true: Passion in the heart becomes your art. What your job title is, does not define you. What your paycheck is or whether or not you are on the cover of some magazine, does not define your level of success. Success is doing what you love, when you can, as you can. The master of his or her own art is one that takes great pleasure in being human first and an artist second. The artist will emerge regardless and that in itself is art which gives us life in return. Bill Henderson demonstrated this brilliantly. The unique colors we shine and contribute in life through a smile, a nod, a twinkle of an eye create a beautiful image and paint a gorgeous picture of life. We create art from within just by being. And yes, Bill we'd better love you when you're gone. You’ve given us more than art, you’ve shined your artist within, just by being you.
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