Audience grows for Tess Henley’s soulful music

As a young and promising soulful songstress, Tess Henley understands just how difficult it is to be found and heard.

Kent’s Tess Henley caught a major break when she captured the Guitar Center’s Singer-Songwriter Artist Discovery Program last March.

Kent’s Tess Henley caught a major break when she captured the Guitar Center’s Singer-Songwriter Artist Discovery Program last March.

As a young and promising soulful songstress, Tess Henley understands just how difficult it is to be found and heard.

Breaking into the cluttered and ultra-competitive commercial music business can be extremely daunting.

“When I first started pursuing music I think you learn more and more how tough it us, how crazy and political it can be,” said the 27-year-old independent artist from Kent. “It’s definitely one of toughest industries. I never really expected to be in that kind of world when I first started, but it really helps to have the support of family and friends, for sure.”

Lately, Henley’s good days have outnumbered her trying ones.

As Tess describes, “a prayer was answered” when the singer-songwriter and pianist captured a national contest last year. Grammy award-winning producer Don Was – who has worked with such legendary artists as the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Mayer and Bonnie Raitt – chose Henley from more than 10,000 performers in the Guitar Center’s Singer-Songwriter Artist Discovery Program last March.

“In the end, I chose Tess because she had a true voice and a strong sense of who she is,” Was told American Songwriter magazine. “Not only that, but when I listened to her perform, I could envision the complete record we would make together. She has a true gift.”

Henley – a Kentlake High School and University of Washington graduate – was able to work and polish her craft with Was in a professional studio. Her latest EP, “Wonderland,” recorded at Hollywood’s Henson Studios, brings out the best in Tess’ jazzy soulful voice, which is similar in style to Norah Jones or Sara Barielles.

Henley’s “Wonderland” EP credits renowned musicians: James Gadson on drums (Beck, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers); James “Hutch” Hutchinson on bass (Raitt, BB King, Al Green); Mark Goldenberg on guitar (Linda Ronstadt, Raitt); Michito Sanchez on percussion (Train, Aretha Franklin); Mike Finnigan on organ (Jimi Hendrix, Michael McDonald); and string arranger Davide Rossi (Coldplay, Ed Sheeran).

Henley’s music has attracted a growing audience – made larger after her national television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Jan. 22. She performed two tracks – “Positively Me” and “Wonderland” – on ABC’s late-night show.

Henley overcame nerves to pull off a strong performance, a tremendous experience, she said, made more meaningful when family and friends flew to Los Angeles to be in the audience for the taping.

“It was a little emotional to be there,” Henley said. “It was a really great day in general.”

Henley’s whirlwind schedule continued when she recently performed at eight showcases in three days during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

She plans to create more music and work on remixes and a video off her EP. She launches her national tour in March, an itinerary that could keep her on the road for most of the year.

The tour lands in Seattle on April 15 for an appearance at the Neumos.

Henley calls Kent home, but her busy career requires her to remain in Los Angeles.

“I hope to get home when I can,” she said.

Family continues to stay involved in her career, a team now complete with the hiring of a manager, booking agent and publicist.

Henley is determined to build on the recent momentum her music has generated. Perseverance is the key.

“They’re always boundaries you have to break through. Sometimes you feel like you just can’t get past a certain point,” Henley said. “But with everything that has happened so far, I feel like I finally broke past that boundary that I was trying to break for a while. Now it’s about keeping that going and looking ahead to the next hurdle to get over.”


To learn more about the artist and her music, visit “Wonderland” is available for pre-sale now and out Tuesday, Feb. 10.

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