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'Siren' Silenced, But Abigail Henderson's Music Lives On

Mitch Brian

Friends and family will gather on Saturday to remember Abigail Hope Henderson. The musician died on Tuesday in Kansas City after a five-year fight with cancer. She was 36.

In some ways, her legacy will be interwined with her illness. 

Henderson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. She and her husband and bandmate, Christopher Meck, had been introduced to the idea of a health care collective for musicians in New Orleans. Her own diagnosis provided an impetus.

When Henderson's insurance company did not pay for treatment, a fundraiser contributed seed money for Henderson and Meck to co-found the Midwest Music Foundation. The organization raises money for local musicians to pay for health care. According to The Kansas City Star, to date, the foundation's health care fund has distributed "more than $30,000 to local musicians."

Henderson started playing guitar in her early 20s, performing in a number of bands, including Trouble Junction, the Gaslights, Atlantic Fadeout, and finally, Tiny Horse. Along the way, she developed, according to The Star's Tim Finn, "a voice that arrested a lot of attention."

A series of chemotherapy treatments had kept her illness at bay, until January 2012 when the cancer flared up again. As The Star reports, that was when Henderson tried an experimental treatment. Her voice changed, but she continued to sing:

She took a last-ditch experimental drug and recovered, but not unscathed. The cancer had paralyzed one of her vocal cords. Still, she did not give up her music. Instead, she and Meck started Tiny Horse, a folk duo that would grow into a full band.
“I used to nail notes to the walls,” she told The Star in October, days before the fifth annual Apocalypse Meow. “I can’t do that anymore. I had to find a different path. It’s like a guitar player who loses fingers: You can still play, you just have to figure out how to do it differently.”

In a review of Tiny Horse's EP, released in March 2013, Zach Hodson wrote of the music: "it is sorrow meant to be remembered, celebrated, and enjoyed."  Henderson's last performance took place in July 2013, when Tiny Horse opened for the BoDeans at Knuckleheads.

A memorial service takes place Saturday, August 31, at 5 p.m. at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th Street, Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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