NIU alumna Lori Henriques will be sitting among famous musicians at this year’s 58th annual Grammy Awards on Monday because she is a star in her own right as one of five nominated for Best Children’s Album.
Her album, “How Great Can This Day Be,” by Human Puppy Records, has already been chosen as a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and has received outstanding reviews from National Public Radio and SiriusXM Radio.
From the title track to the last song, “the messages celebrate family and friends and encourage listeners to see each day as an opportunity to have fun – or to just be,” said Lynne Heffley, a writer for Parents’ Choice.
Henriques (M.M. piano performance and pedagogy, ’97) said her children inspire her to write music. The Portland, Ore., musician began writing songs in her early 30s and produced her first album, where she plays lullabies on the piano, after she couldn’t find a suitable lullaby CD.
The nominated jazz-inspired album, her fourth CD, reminisces about “Sesame Street” and pays homage to Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and the renowned chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall, whom she has met.
“I follow my curiosity lyrically and I write what I hear musically,” said the 46-year-old, who has played the piano since age 5.
Henriques wrote and produced the album with a cast from Portland’s jazz scene and her family. She and her husband, Juilliard-trained actor Matt Keeslar, sing a duet together, her 9-year-son sings French echoes, her 3-year-old daughter speaks at the end of a song and her brother whistles a solo.
She has been surrounded by a family of musicians her whole life. Her mother and father were both pianists and her grandfather was a violinist.
From childhood through university life, Henriques specialized in classical music on the piano. After graduating with a Master of Music degree from Northern Illinois University, she was a sought-after private piano teacher in Seattle and Los Angeles and worked as a musical theater director in Seattle and as a classroom music teacher.
“I feel NIU allowed me to follow my curiosity,” said Henriques, who believes that Donald Walker, who taught piano at NIU, continues to have an influence on her music.
“He was a magnificent human and marvelous teacher,” she said. “I have thought many times about his infectious smile and imagined he’d be so happy that I found this rather surprising musical niche.”
“Dr. Goldenberg’s tenacity and attention to detail gave me such great inspiration and let me know that I’m not alone in being very particular about a sound I wish to hear,” she said.