Since watching “Selena” for the first time when he was 2, senior and musical theater major Auston Henderson knew he wanted to be a singer. Now, with the release of his first EP just a few weeks away, his dreams are beginning to come true.
Henderson — a Houston native — grew up singing choir, and for his senior year of high school, moved to Virginia to attend the Governor’s School of the Arts, a secondary arts school, where he could study musical theater more seriously.
Many Elon University students have also attended Governor’s School including “The Flash” star Grant Gustin.
Transitioning to an artist
Though Henderson focused mostly on musical theater, he always knew he wanted to be a recording artist someday.
“I used to write a lot when I was a kid,” he said. “I taught myself how to play the piano, and then eventually strayed from that and started to pursue musical theater. But now I’m back. My sophomore year I made the decision — after some life events — that pursuing a career in music is my passion and really my calling in this life.”
For the past few summers, Henderson has spent his time in Santa Claus, Indiana, at Holiday World and Splash Safari — an amusement park about two hours away from Nashville, Tennessee. He would perform five 25-minute shows each day in an outdoor theater in the heat of summer.
“The experience at Holiday World was so helpful to prepare me for a career in music in so many aspects,” Henderson said. “It helped me find myself, and my style — I tried so many different things, like dyeing my hair there, and I started writing songs again there. Getting to perform every day to a crowd of people like that was very helpful.”
After struggling with writer’s block time and time again, Henderson received a gift from a friend which was a notebook with the letter “A” on the front and the words “Hello Sunshine” on the back — the name of his upcoming EP.
“I looked at him and said, ‘This is going to be the first song in the book and it’s going to be ‘the one’ hands down,’” Henderson said.
In the fall of his junior year, while waiting to audition for the fall show, Henderson found himself in a rehearsal room with his notebook and a piano.
“All of the sudden I was at the piano and I wrote Hello Sunshine in an hour — if not, less,” he said. “It just spewed out of me. I heard all the instruments in my head. It just came from above. I didn’t even have to try.”
Hello Sunshine, set to be released March 3, has been a two-year work in progress. Using the resources available at Elon — including many students — Henderson has produced a collection of works he could not be more proud of.
“I can’t put my finger on it, and maybe it’s because they’re my babies — but I believe in my music so much,” he said. “I believe that [my songs] have a special message. I believe they have something very special about them. I really think that they’re going to speak to people.”
When Henderson decided to pursue an EP, he recruited many Elon students to help him out, including Jack Garno ’16 and his band Small House, which will be featured on the EP.
Small House is a “jazz-funk-fusion band” that performs Jazz Jams every first Friday of the month at The Oak House and created Small House Entertainment LLC.
“Somehow we got connected to Auston and he did a Michael Jackson tune with us for Jazz Jams and he killed it,” Garno said. “We all stayed connected. Eventually, he came to us and was like, ‘I have some original ideas and I’m putting together an EP. Can you do this?’”
Garno has assumed the role of producer for the EP and arranged two of the four songs, while senior David Williams arranged the remaining two.
“But I think my favorite part — before the end result — has been working with talented people,” Garno said. “Auston, number one, is extremely talented. He knows what he wants, which is nice from a production standpoint. He’s an amazing artist. Working with David Williams as well, that kid is amazing.”
Henderson describes his musical style as gender-fluid, old school and new school, noting influences such as Prince, Michael Jackson, Bruno Mars and Beyoncé.
Looking towards the future
After graduation, Henderson hopes to move to Los Angeles to further his career and is already planning on sending his EP to a few connections he has at record companies.
“I have no jobs out there and barely have any friends out there,” he said. “I’m really going out there on a limb.”
His willingness to “jump” is personified in tattoos on his wrist that reads “Jump” and “Phil 4:13” — his favorite bible verse. He says that after watching a video made by Steve Harvey explaining the importance of taking chances, he has been inspired to do just that.
“That spoke mountains to me,” he said. “Because I think it’s important in all aspects in life to jump just to see what will happen.”
As his time at Elon comes to a close, Henderson said one of the most influential moments of his four years was the class “Performance” taught by Catherine McNeela, professor of performing arts. The class shows students how to take their own experiences and relate it to a song.
“I auditioned for American Idol [my junior year in high school,] and I got to the executive producers, which is right before the celebrities,” Henderson said. “The [producers] said ‘You have too much emotion, you’re acting it too much.’ And that was kind of like, ‘Maybe I just need to do theater.’”
It was “Performance” that taught Henderson to use his musical theater skills to apply to being a recording artist.
To celebrate the release of Hello Sunshine, Henderson will be hosting two release parties in the beginning of March. At 10 p.m. March 2 at The Fat Frogg Bar and Grill there will be a performance with the entire band, backup singers and dancers. There will be an optional cover charge of $5 that will include a signed copy of the EP.
On March 3 — the day the EP officially will be available to stream on iTunes, Spotify and other streaming sites — there will be a show at 8:30 p.m. at The Oak House.
Henderson funded his EP completely on his own, noting that in the future he wants to be the CEO of his own production company and produce films, music videos and other artists. This EP was good practice for him in many different roles.
“It has been a trial and error process,” Henderson said. “But, I believe in it. I believe that if you put everything into it, what you put in is what you get out. I wanted this to be the best product it could possibly be.”