It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn and I’m on my way to meet Courtnie at a cafe in Clinton Hill. With my camera in tow, I’m initially focused and ready to get down to business. As we get settled into our seats I instantly forget that we’re meeting up for an actual interview. Whenever I’m with Courtnie our time always consists of jokes, laughs, a little “tea” spilling, and always ending with a word of encouragement.
The same energy Courtnie brings to her relationships, is the same energy she puts into her music. This Midwest bred 24-year-old singer is a force to be reckoned with. From her smooth R&B sound to her trendy “cool-girl” aesthetic, Courtnie brings a rare energy to her art that’s refreshing to see in a world full of Instagram stars.
Saturday School: Let’s get right to it. When did you first start singing?
Courtnie Henson: I started singing in the church, my grandma sang and she was really talented so I tried to mimic everything she did. I never took it seriously though. I’m an alto, and I used to try and sing like Mariah Carey when I was little and my mom was like “you’re trash” so I stopped [laughs]. It literally lasted until age seven. I didn’t get back into singing until college.
SS: What made you start singing again in college?
CH: When I joined the gospel choir in college that’s when it all began. One of my friends there was a drummer and a producer and he would have me sing over some of his stuff and that’s how I learned to write.
SS: It’s rare these days to find an artist that actually writes their own music. Take me through your creative process, how do you write out your songs, where do you write, etc.?
CH: I started writing in my dorm room in college and then my writing improved a lot the summer before my senior year when I was traveling. I went to Uganda for a month and I wrote this little project that no one knows about [laughs]. So I wrote there and then New York, I started writing when I was interning here for the summer and that’s what made me move out here. I try to write in spaces that make me feel at home.
SS: You have a very strong R&B sound, who are some artists that inspire you?
CH: The most recent would be Solange, Erykah [Badu] and Beyonce (forever and always). I would say one of my biggest inspirations was Michael Jackson. When I was little I would always make people sit with me and watch his videos.
SS: Michael Jackson is my mom’s favorite so growing up I had (and loved) to listen to Michael. So I have to ask, what is your favorite song of his? I’m wondering if it’s the same as mine.
CH: P.Y.T. or Baby Be Mine
SS: That’s a deep cut!
CH: Baby Be Mine is my jam, I love the cadence and melody, it’s perfect.
SS: I like R&B Michael so the Off The Wall album and the song Off The Wall are my favorites. It’s just such an underrated album.
CH: For real! People are always talking about Thriller and I’m like “what is Thriller?” Off The Wall is great. But going back to my inspiration, Nina Simone is definitely one of them...oh and Janet! I love her as an overall performer.
SS: Agreed! So, I really like your video, Heart’s Desire I actually watched it again this morning [laughs]. What inspired the aesthetic of the video?
CH: When I wrote Heart’s Desire I wanted it to come off like “I’m a carefree black girl”... just something fun and colorful! My next project is actually called I Feel Like Color. I really just wanted something that made people feel bright.
SS: It definitely gave me a warm fuzzy. As I was watching it I was like “oooou I want a little boo now!”
CH: Exactly! I just wanted to create something simple about love because we’re all so cynical about that sh*t, including so many other things these days. I just wanted to put something out there that was the opposite.
SS: What made you make a video specifically for Heart’s Desire?
CH: Honestly, I had always planned to do a video for Heart’s Desire and Try. When I create something I’ve usually worked on it for months and months and by the time I put it out to everyone, I’m a totally different person and I don’t completely relate to it as much anymore. So it just ended up that I did Heart’s Desire first, I didn’t even get to Try, even though it’s a great song.
SS: Speaking of Try, that is actually my favorite song of yours. Is there a story behind that? Because I relate to that on a personal level [laughs].
CH: It’s really about exploring intimacy and being open. People are more uptight than they think they are and it’s really about being open to things you wouldn’t think you would be. It’s pretty literal.
SS: You’re from the Midwest, went to school on the West Coast and you live on the East Coast now. All of the music from those places are totally different, how has it influenced you as an artist?
CH: I feel like some of my biggest inspirations are from Chicago. I just admire their artistry. Seeing people doing what they wanted to do at the ages of 12 and 13 was really dope to me.
In St. Louis we don’t really have a big sound that is connected to us like Chicago, I feel like we’re all over the place. I would say the West Coast has my favorite genre of hip-hop right now, I just love the way they flow. I feel like being surrounded by all those different types of people have affected, me which has affected my artistry.
SS: Being a New Yorker now, how has the city helped or hindered you as an artist?
CH: That’s a good question. Every publication is based out here and meeting people in the industry is so easy. I went to school in L.A. and it was a great place because I loved the outdoors, it had great food, etc. but the people in New York are more accessible and more willing to help you. Just good hearts, people that believe in diverse art forms, not just what’s poppin’ or what’s about to be hot. They’re people that actually take you seriously.
It’s hindered me because I don’t know that many creators out here. It’s like everyone that surrounds the artists are all here but not the actual artists. They come here to perform all the time but do they stay to make sh*t? No! So in L.A. I have way more of that.
SS: Got you, so you have this blossoming singing career but you work at BET full-time. I know when I come home from work I’m tired! How do you balance your singing career with your full-time job?
CH: See I don’t. I’m always exhausted and I feel like my social life has to give a lot. There would be a lot of things I would flake on because it wasn’t necessarily helping my career in any way. Luckily music is a fun industry and I’ll meet people at fun parties but for the most part I’m going home and writing or if I’m traveling I’m writing. It’s about processing that I can’t do what my friends do all of the time and living with that. Hopefully making for a better future.
SS: Outside of sacrificing your social life, what is the biggest struggle you’ve had so far?
CH: I’m okay as long as I tell myself that the world is my oyster. It’s interesting because I think I’ve been my biggest critic but... I’m black, I’m a woman and we dominate this sh*t.
SS: Literally! What advice would you give to other creatives?
CH: Don’t get in your own way. As soon as you have a [creative] inkling, start.
SS: The name of the blog is Saturday School, so I wanted to ask, If you could go back what advice would you give high school you?
CH: Oh my God, so much! I would just tell high school me, to live a little. Don’t be so judgemental. And back to what I just said, don’t get in your own way.
To find more of Courtnie's music, check her out on Soundcloud.
Words and Photography by Morgan Peterson