Jump on to the newest social media platform before anyone else. Stand out. Be yourself. No one believes that you’re “somebody” until you’ve actually made a name for yourself. Being authentic will make you more relatable and unique because no one else does you better.
As a part of our series about Nashville’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rich Hennessy.
Rich Hennessy has finally found his voice.
He knew it was there from a young age, when he belted out pop songs in the back of his mom’s Dodge Caravan. He knew it was there when he landed lead roles his freshman year of high school in musical theater. But somehow, somewhere along the way, Rich lost his voice.
He recalls a conversation with his theater teacher in high school. “Go to college,” she told him. Get a business degree.” Rich had dreams of moving from his home in New Jersey to New York City to study voice, but her words led him to a fork in the road and to an alternate life.
“I kept thinking, I shouldn’t be sitting in this classroom,” says Rich when he looks back at four years at college in Pennsylvania. “I went West, and I should’ve gone East.”
Despite being elected student government president and homecoming king, Rich began to feel like he was living someone else’s life — in more ways than one.
“I didn’t want to come out in college. I felt like being gay would damper my success in school and put my twin brother under the microscope for the next three years. My purpose was to graduate and make my parents proud,” he continues. “I put so much on my plate so I couldn’t reflect on myself. I thought me being gay would have been the ultimate ‘demerit’ on my life.”
Two months after Rich graduated from college, his family’s home burned down. He saved his mother and pets from the house (his brother luckily wasn’t home). The ensuing months brought intense PTSD, and Rich gained weight to the point where he was unrecognizable to himself.
Around the same time, Rich’s father, who shares a deep passion for music and songwriting, invited Rich to join him on a trip to Nashville. Rich found himself in the studio with budding songwriters and artists, and one thought went through his head: “I can do this, and I should have done this a long time ago.”
“I decided I had to change my life.” Rich finally made the move across the Hudson to New York City, began bartending and taking voice lessons. He lost 85 pounds in one year.
His hard work started to pay off — Rich began booking gigs around town, eventually landing local opening slots for national acts. But he couldn’t shake what he had experienced in Nashville — a vibrant pop music scene driven by a tight-knit network of songwriters, artists, and producers.
One cold winter night, after an especially frustrating bartending shift on Manhattan’s West Side, Rich made his nightly walk down 8th Avenue and knew it was time to take another leap. A few months later, he pulled a U-Haul up to his first Nashville apartment.
Rich dove into the music community there head first. While honing his songwriter chops, an Australian expat music manager who agreed to mentor him introduced him to the song “You’re the Voice,” a chart-topping anthem in that country from the 80s originally recorded by John Farnham. The lyrics immediately struck Rich as being both deeply relatable to his own life while also eerily relevant to the world nearly four decades later.
“The song encapsulates everything — my journey to find myself and my voice, my need to speak the truth, and the resulting change that can happen when others use their voices and their authentic selves to speak their truths. Our world needs that now more than ever.”
“You’re the Voice” marks the first step in this new fork in the road for Rich — or maybe rather than a fork, it’s an arc back to that boy belting in the back of his mom’s minivan — pure joy, pure power, living his one true self.
“The person who I am today — I’m authentically me. I want to tell others struggling to find themselves who don’t fit into the role that others expect of them — find your truth and follow it. There is so much power in that.”
Thank you so much for joining us in this series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
Sure! I’m through and through Jersey. I’m proud to be from New Jersey, especially my hometown of Carteret. It’s a small but incredibly diverse area about 30 mins from NYC and about 30 mins to the closest beach.
I grew up in this town that prepared me for a society that the world is just starting to see clearer. I see our differences, but more importantly how similar we all are to one another. Regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, creed, socio-economic status. I took those lessons and have carried them with me on my journey to writing music and becoming the artist I am today.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I didn’t start pursuing music as a career until after I graduated college from East Stroudsburg University in PA. I had taken vocal lessons and such but it was just to feed the passion. Mainly because I wasn’t comfortable with who I was, I wasn’t sure of the path I wanted to take, but then my childhood home burned down two months after I graduated and all of the sudden I was tossed into “real life.” The experience made me look at my life differently considering I had just cheated death. “What did I want out of life? Who am I supposed to be in this world? What’s my purpose?” After a lot of reflection (and weight gain), I decided I need to follow my heart, my passion — music. Which also then lead me to come out, and become the best version of myself that I’m proud to display to the world.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride for sure, bringing me to NYC and now to Nashville. It’s a life that I never expected but I think that’s what makes it so exhilarating.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was a part of an app-based global talent competition that was sponsored by Usher (like THE Usher). It was the first talent competition of its kind and was an awesome experience! You would create videos of your talent and post it to the app and fans would have to go on the app and vote for your talent/video that you posted for that week. Out of over 600 contestants, I placed 13th in the world.
I didn’t win. Sure. I would have loved the 1 million dollars cash prize. But knowing that I had a fan base behind me that truly supported my endeavors and the fact I outpaced hundreds of other talented performers, gave me the motivation to keep working and hustling and not let them down.
Can you share with us an interesting story about living in Nashville?
It’s hilarious, I moved down here and the whole city/country shuts down from the pandemic. It’s like it’s a CLASSIC Rich Hennessy story, really.
Can you share with us a few of the best parts of living in Nashville? We’d love to hear some specific examples or stories about that.
I’ve come to really enjoy Nashville for its charm. I moved here not knowing anyone, and there have been a lot of people that have welcomed me into their circle. I’m really grateful for that.
I think the one thing I missed so much in NYC was having a car. Nashville gives me that luxury of getting into my car and finding an awesome little park or lake to drive to (and sing my face off while driving #endorphins), and then just take in some gorgeous inspiration. While also not being too far from the downtown.
I love walking into any bar and restaurant (pre-COVID) and being met with music. It’s constant inspiration to see someone else hustling just like you, pursuing what they love. It’s also a great opportunity to connect with other artists, collaborate on projects. There are so many co-writes happening at any given time. Yeah Broadway is great, but think about the music that is being made that could be the next big hit that you’ll be singing on that street? It was written only a few blocks away. The culture is much more about building community and less about competition. I love that.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Ivette Sosa Dempsey. You may know her just as Ivette Sosa. She was in the all-female pop group “Eden’s Crush” — it was one of the first pop groups to come out of reality television. Ivette was, and still is in my eyes, a superstar. She’s been my mentor from the absolute beginning.
I was actually supposed to move to Nashville to pursue some touring gigs with other artists to help them pursue their dreams. I had met Ivette not too long before I was supposed to move down. She was teaching a vocal performance class in New Jersey at the time. I used to sing for her, and after a few months of working together, she changed my trajectory having faith in me and believing in my talent.
She convinced me not to move to Nashville to help move someone else’s dream along, but to move to NYC and move my own dream along. She gave me her contact to her personal vocal coach and she’s been my touchstone ever since and has helped and guided me countless times along the way — even directing one of my music videos.
I owe a great deal to her for having changed my life and seeing what I’m worth before I saw it.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Most exciting project I’m working on now is my release of “You’re the Voice.” It’s a song that encapsulates everything that is happening in our country right now, from protests, to voting, school shootings and everything in between, and how we the people need to stand up and have our voices heard in a time where so many people feel like their voices do not matter.
Besides the release I’m constantly writing new music and being inspired with new ideas for songs to have an EP in the first half of 2021!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Be patient. No one is an overnight success, the little wins mean just much as the big ones.
- Be kind. People just don’t want to work with someone who is miserable and rude.
- Focus on yourself, not someone else’s path. Everyone’s journey is different.
- Constructive criticism is your friend. Take it with grace, and apply it because it’s really not what you think you’re doing, it’s the way people receive you.
- Jump on to the newest social media platform before anyone else. Stand out. Be yourself. No one believes that you’re “somebody” until you’ve actually made a name for yourself. Being authentic will make you more relatable and unique because no one else does you better.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Step away for a little while. Find more time to spend with people who have no idea what you do for a living. We tend to surround ourselves with a bunch of people who can relate, but no one that can give us a new perspective. For instance, I’ve had times when I’ve complained because I feel like I didn’t give the best performance, but I have friends who show up and just are in awe of the fact they have a friend who has the courage to get up on a stage and do anything at all. Sometimes I forget that. I’m no longer pursuing my dream — I’m living it. No matter how famous I get. I’m getting to live my truth.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’ve never thought of anything like this before — no one ever truly thinks they’ll get to a point of creating a mass movement. This may be a controversial statement and maybe even naïve; however, I would recreate the peace movement where we would call on governments from across the world to dismantle the military industrial complexes that provide high-grade military weapons and machinery for profit to the government. By dismantling these complexes, reimagining and redirecting those resources into humanitarian efforts to make life better for our brothers and sisters living in third world countries. I’m speaking on global scale, a worldwide peace-treaty.
Why must we always be on the brink of war? Governments create wars, not people. Imagine military all around the world cohesively working together to give everyone an equal opportunity of living a dignified life — with substantial food, water, and adequate shelter? Instead of world domination forever being the goal.
It may be a “pie in the sky” idea and some would mock it, however we need a paradigm shift in the way we operate this world, because currently we’re doing a great job.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I think my favorite life lesson quote would have to be from Bernard Shaw (I hardly know who he is, but it was in a Google search once that I used in a high school graduation speech) “Life is not about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself.”
Back then, I knew exactly who I was — I didn’t need to find that person. I just needed to figure out how I would present that person to the world. Find the courage to embrace that person and love that person. When I came out, that was me creating the life I wanted for myself — living unapologetically and fearlessly. 8 years later, I release a song called “You’re the Voice” that has so many meanings, but the meaning that holds the most weight for me is my truth of being a gay man. Presenting that creation of God or whatever higher power that made me this way to the world and using my voice not to hide away in the dark that so many LGBTQ people before me had to do.
I’m here baby, and I’m a damned good creation.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Whoopi Goldberg. I was 3 years old watching Sister Act 2. There’s a line where she’s referencing from a book to Lauryn Hill about being a singer “If you wake up in the morning, and you can’t think anything but singing, then you should be a singer, girl.”
I think about that line literally every single day I’ve woken up for over 2 decades. I want to be a singer. There’s no plan B. I just want the chance to tell her that. May be even pitch myself for Sister Act 3.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow me on all of the things, @richhennessyofficial, Twitter is @richhennessyoff
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!