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Sugar Bar open mic star Andre Henry finds video success with club staffers

It only made sense for Andre Henry to feature Sugar Bar staffers in his debut music video.

Andre Harris
Cory Hill

After all, he celebrated the release of his 2011 debut album Insomnia with a showcase performance at Ashford & Simpson's Upper West Side restaurant/nightclub, having used it as a veritable training ground since attending his first open mic there in mid-2008.

Henry also arranged two Ashford & Simpson songs written and produced for Sir Cliff Richard’s 2011 Soulicious album, which turned out to be the late Ashford’s final project. And when Valerie Simpson instituted the ASCAP Foundation Reach Out and Touch Award in 2011 to provide, in Ashford’s honor, promising songwriters with financial assistance for professional recordings of their original songs, Henry was the first honoree.

In the striking video for Henry’s “Roses While We’re Young,” then, he naturally included Sugar Bar staffers among the many friends who make cameo close-up appearances.

“The song is about all of the people who have made a positive influence in my life, and the video actually features people that I know personally--every face,” says Henry. “I could've chosen the entire Sugar Bar staff, because all the bartenders and servers and administrative team have impacted me in such a way, but time wouldn't allow.”

Henry actually worked at the Sugar Bar for a couple months as a server.

“They didn’t really need another server, so I knew they were taking me in because I'm ‘family’--and that's really how the rest of the staff treated me,” continues Henry. “I had no restaurant experience, and wasn't too great at it, but everyone was so helpful and patient and understanding—and had my back. We all worked as a team, and it was one of the most beautiful experiences I've had to date. I know it sounds weird to talk about serving tables in that way, but I'm a hopeless romantic! The Sugar Bar is something like a home to me, and I miss serving there.”

Of course he continues to perform at the Sugar Bar’s renowned Thursday Night Open Mic shows, of course, under the admiring eye of one certain Sugar Bar staffer in particular, who notably appears in the “Roses While We’re Young” video.

Valerie Simpson is in a different category, though,” says Henry. “She's a music legend--someone who's work inspired me as a kid--even though I was too young to know who she was. I saw her and Nick on TV one time and had no idea who they were! But to have met them and be affirmed as an artist by them has been the experience that keeps me encouraged about music when I feel like quitting. Two of the greatest songwriters in history told me I have what it takes, so I had to at least ask if she'd do me the honor of being in my video.”

The backstory for the song, meanwhile, has to do with “the Mayan apocalyptic hoopla” of 2012, and specifically, the movie "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley.

“This movie really moved me, especially the role that music played in people's lives as they faced the fact that they were all going to die,” says Henry. “It inspired me to take to Facebook and ask all my fans, ‘If the world were gonna end, what kinds of songs would be on your end-of-the-world playlist?’ And I promised that I would choose a handful of their responses and write songs and release them by 12-21-12--the alleged Mayan-predicted apocalypse.”

As Henry has an unusually close relationship with his fans, he received a big response.

“The one that inspired ‘Roses’ was, ‘Write a letter to someone who influenced your life the most.’ It stood out for me because I usually write about romantic love, but this was a challenge to write a song that could be sung to your parent or favorite teacher. So I took a few days to find an angle: How would I take this idea and make it a song? Then all of a sudden, I remembered something my father always says. ‘Give me my flowers while I'm alive.’ I know he didn't make it up, but he's the only person in my life who says that."

Now that he had his title concept, Henry began thinking of friends, fans and family.

“Different faces and names came to mind,” he says. “It was obvious that this song wasn't going to be about one person, but every person who had showed me love. I owe these people so much, and I'll never be able to express to them how much they mean to me, because they're too many--I know this in part because I tried to type nearly 2,600 personal valentine greetings on Valentine's Day and ended up getting a neck cramp! Again, I tend to love impossibly big.”

So Henry wrote “Roses While We’re Young” “with all the love that has ever been given to me--from anyone who’s ever given it to me--in mind,” he says. “I guess that sentiment really translated because the video now has 34,000-plus views and counting. In fact, I just heard from someone in Tampa who got an anonymous gift of roses from a secret admirer who used my lyrics in the card. I think it’s because we all know that we don't have forever and that love—and giving it--is the most beautiful thing we can experience in life.”

A baffled but grateful Henry is now trying to figure out how his video spread so quickly.

“I only shared it with my personal mailing list of a few hundred people, and just hours later it was all over my feed on Facebook and I was getting messages from people as far away as Morocco and the U.K.,” he says. “I think people can feel that everyone in it and involved with it are friends, and that the song is about my friends.”

The song is available via iTunes and Spotify, and at Henry’s website. Meanwhile, he hopes to release three EPs this year.

“I want to focus on smaller units of music since people's attention spans are changing,” he explains. “It also helps keep the momentum going as a creator. My producer Kieran Kelly and I have been talking a lot about re-thinking the way we create and release music.”

And Henry is also preparing for a March Monday night residency at Pianos in New York’s Lower East Side.

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