On Deck: Lenora

On December 1, in the heart of downtown Houston’s theater district, a supremely lucky audience of a boxing event at the Ballroom at Bayou Place got a preview of the beautiful, magical voice of Lenora. It was there that Lenora sang a stirring rendition of the National Anthem before the main event. It is no secret that the National Anthem has been a point of contention, controversy, and conversation for the better part of 2016. This would mark Lenora’s first public performance after a hiatus. She described how impactful singing the National anthem was as a young Black woman. “When I was first asked to sing the national anthem at this event, I felt differently than I have ever felt before. I’ve sung the national anthem at different events when I was younger, but at that time we didn’t talk about the meaning of the song. As a singer, the anthem is a standard. This time, I felt conflicted about singing it. I felt [almost] like a traitor. I was being asked, employed to sing a song that is so demeaning, really, for Black people because there is no real sense of freedom and inclusivity. However, when I agreed to do it I felt like they needed to hear it from me. I felt strong when I sang it. I sang from a place of pain with shimmers of hope in it. Hope that even though this country wasn’t built with us in mind, maybe there will be a sense of freedom for Black people. True freedom.” Judging by the looks of awe in the audience, Lenora accomplished just that. Lenora, a true vocalist, whose strength is her ability to tell a story, told a story of pain and hope to a room full of strangers. When Lenora took center stage, the large arena suddenly became an intimate space where for a few moments there was that glimpse of the hope she spoke of and the embers of patriotism were fanned by her powerful voice.

There is nothing arbitrary about the name Lenora. Lenora is actually her middle name and she takes great pride in the fact that she was named after her Grandmother, Lenora “Doll” Carter. Lenora said of her beloved Grandmother, “I think of the time that I had with her… Her raising me and her love. My grandmother passed when I was 18. Living with her day in and day out and her being sort of a symbol of selfless love and the “everywoman”; she would go to work, she ran two businesses and she was raising a grandchild and still had time to dote on that grandchild and raise me and shower me with love. Everything that she was is everything I wanted to be. So when I chose that stage name, I chose it because it’s true to me and I know where I come from with that name. I have a sense of belonging, I have a sense of identity with that name, and I think, honestly that she lives through me every day. Every day I see more of her in myself and I think that in using her name it just allows her to live on through me and my music.”

Lenora knew she wanted to sing from the moment she stepped on the stage of her Kindergarten graduation and led the choir in a rousing rendition of ‘Going up Yonder.’ She mentioned that the turning point for her was when the crowd was so receptive to her voice. “I can remember being in the car with my mother and her telling me how to sing every note. Which parts to growl on and which parts to lean into and how that would make everyone stand up, and when I did it and everyone stood up, I just started doing more. I probably was doing too much. But I loved that. I loved the idea of leading. There was a choir behind me and being able to lead them. I knew that, that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life at five years old.”

A unique influence on Lenora’s sound has been growing up in the rich musical culture of Houston. “I grew up mainly around a hip hop scene. I loved it so much because Houston hip hop is so original. It makes you proud to be a Houstonian. People can imitate Houston music and Houston culture but it’s something that was cultivated here. I think Houston doesn’t even realize sometimes how special it is. In terms of my music, I always felt like an outcast. When I would perform at showcases with other artists, my music was so different. There would be serious hip hop, bang, and screw and I would come up covering a Dorothy Dandridge song…my original music was just different. At one point I tried to make myself fit in a little bit more but now the influence has made me more sure of who I am. It made me say “there’s this and this going on because there’s a rich culture here but our culture is so rich I know we’re ready for something else.” That’s what I’m so excited about now; I think that the original music I’m working on now is something that Houston will be proud of. I definitely think there are some elements of Houston in my music but I think more than anything it made me want to be myself.”

Lenora, who is currently working on a project, talked about how she is in a space of writing for herself and described writing music as therapy, “Writing is like journaling for me right now. To be honest with you, like everyone else, I’m just trying to figure it out. When you write for yourself, it’s always going to be authentic, and that resonates with someone.”

To learn more about Lenora, hear her voice, and find out about upcoming performances, you can follow her on Instagram @whotfislenora. For booking requests, email everythinglenora@gmail.com.