A large part of the local music community is mourning the loss of one of its most respected singers, songwriters and advocates.
Abigail Hope Henderson, 35, died Tuesday at her home in Kansas City. She had been fighting cancer since 2008. She was known in the local music community as a lead singer with a siren voice who has performed with several local bands for more than a decade, including Trouble Junction, the Gaslights and Atlantic Fadeout. She was also known as a staunch activist in the fight to make health care affordable to local musicians.
In the spring of 2008, Henderson was diagnosed with Stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer. Though she had a catastrophic health insurance policy, the cost of her treatments prompted her and her husband and bandmate, Christopher Meck, to start the Midwest Music Foundation, which raises funds to help local musicians pay health-care costs and raises awareness of the local music scene.
That same year, Henderson also startedthe annual Apocalypse Meow benefit, which raises funds for the MMF.
Before last year’s event, Henderson told The Star: “Medical bills can throw you into poverty in a week — in one day. There’s nothing like standing in your kitchen opening a hospital bill for $63,000 one day and then $47,000 the next. After a while you don’t want to open them anymore. Who can pay that?”
Henderson survived one daunting scare in early 2012, when her cancer returned and she was told she’d run out of treatment options. However, a last-ditch experimental treatment proved effective and the cancer retreated, but not before it paralyzed one of her vocal chords.
“I used to nail notes to the walls,” she told The Star before last year’s Apocalypse Meow. “I can’t do that anymore.”
Yet she adjusted, writing songs that accommodated her voice for her band Tiny Horse. (Click here
to watch the video to the Tiny Horse song “Ride.”)
“I had to find a different path,” she said. “It’s like a guitar player who loses fingers: You can still play, you just have to figure out how to do it differently.”
As much for her music, her colleagues, friends and fans will remember her for her indefatigable support for this city and its music scene. She was also among the organizers of the MidCoast Takeover, a showcase of bands from Kansas City and Lawrence during the annual South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
She told The Star in 2012: “I appreciate being included in the idea of a ‘scene,’ if we can take the weirdness away from the word ‘scene’ for a minute. It’s the idea or sense of a musical community, in my mind. That’s what it means to me. And the artists in this (scene) have built an amazing world-class musical community I would stand toe-to-toe with any place.”
In 2008, before the inaugural Apocalypse Meow event, she bristled at the notion that being a working musician isn’t a legitimate profession worthy of at least modest benefits.
“I say, ‘Well, then, who would you dance to at your reunions or weddings if it wasn’t for riffraff like us?” she said.
“There is nothing romantic or glamorous about sleeping in the van, living with your bandmates, eating beans and rice, or working three part-time jobs to support your full-time job. Their work is worth preserving and they are worth protecting. If no one else will do it, damn it, I will.”
A memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th St.
To donate to the Midwest Music Foundation , visit its web site:midwestmusicfound.org.