Henry Nemo was an American musician, songwriter, and actor in Hollywood films who had a reputation as a hipster. Here is a brief interview with his highly talented daughter Gina Nemo on her recollection of his life. You’ll even find out about the connect between Henry Nemo and Charlie the Tuna (Starkist).
Q 1: Growing up was your dad just dad to you?
A. I always knew my father was bigger than life. He was well-liked by many and a genius. You felt the energy in the room. But when it came to us being alone together he was a supportive and loving father who always put me first. He always made me feel special. I am who I am because of my father.
Q 2. Could you please share with us a few of your fond memories you had with you dad?
A. There are so many great ones. I alway think of his great story telling skills. He could captivate any audience with old stories. I love to do that also. I also remember him around his friends who were all characters. They would always have a great time and when they got together there was always a room full of laughter. Famous people always wanted to hear his stories. They used to just show up at our house all the time. All ages!
Q 3. Did you understand the significance of your Father’s work when it came to seeing him interact with other jazz composers?
A. Not really. My father was sixty years old when I was born. I started to get more clarity about his success when I was in my twenties. People would make a bigger deal or tell me stories about him back in the day. Stories with Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Hadda Brooks & so many others also. Count Basie & other famous band leaders. The Cotton Club and more.
Q 4. Your father was progressive for his time. Racism of the 40’s and a 19-piece band featuring four women singers of Asian descent was a powerful statement to make. I am proud to have read about this piece of your father’s history. What are your thoughts regarding your father working out of the norm, so to speak working with people of all races at that time frame?
A. My father was one of a kind and definitely before his time in every way. He was doing things that no one did back then. They called him THE NEEM. He would do flips off a piano after playing his song. Some of the stories he told me will have to be in a film one day. I plan on producing a film one day about my father.
Q 5. I was fascinated to learn that Duke Ellington sent your father a telegram written in JIVE TALK. Did your father talk in Jive Talk around the house when you were growing up?
A. My father is credited for creating Jive Talk on Wikipedia. My dad always talked in “hipster speak” (Jive Talk) around our home or when entertaining friends. Sometimes he would mix up windows with doors in his sentences. He had his own way of being silly. I often think about some of the funny things he used to say and do. He was such a cool cat!
(Insert: The terms hipster or hepcat, as used in the 1940s, referred to aficionados of jump blues and jazz, in particular bebop, which became popular in the early 1940s.) (ref wiki)
(Insert: Jive talk, also known as Harlem jive or simply Jive, the argot of jazz, jazz jargon, vernacular of the jazz world, slang of jazz, and parlance of hip is an African-American Vernacular English slang or vocabulary that developed in Harlem, where “jive” (jazz) was played and was adopted more widely in African-American society, peaking in the 1940s.) (ref wiki)
Q 6. What out of all the memorable music your father created you’re your favorite and why?
A. I have been singing his biggest hit “Don’t Take Your Love From Me” since I could walk. That one is really dear to me. Infact I couldn’t do a duet of this song with another known artist because I’m too close to it. I have released it on two different albums. One is a blues version on my first album Plastic Wonderland (1999). Michael Buble just recorded the song on his album “Higher.” There are songs of my fathers that have never been released that I would love to sing one day. He was a fantastic singer and performer also but he wasn’t as known for that as the hit songs he wrote. Some of his original tracks he sings on from the 50’s were released years ago and they are great. I named my new film company ZAVA PICTURES after his song ZAVA ZAVA ZAVA. It’s so much fun! He sounds so happy. When I listen to it I feel his spirit. I was just able to get it up on digital platforms recently.
Q 7. What advice would you give musicians and composers starting off in the jazz industry to further their careers?
A. I think Jazz should be played live. There are so many different types of Jazz now. I think it’s best to stick to one sound. Stay consistent. I love Jazz but have always experimented with different music styles. But when I sing Jazz I’m with my father in my heart & mind and I immediately become a singer from the 40’s. Jazz is the first music I performed when I was a child. I loved performing my dads songs for him, his friends and family.
Q 8. You dad is credited as having been the inspiration for the Starkist tuna advertising mascot, Charlie the Tuna. That was an amazing fun fact I loved reading about. Did your friends know about Charlie the Tuna and your father’s connection with it?
A. Well if you go to my Facebook you will see the cover photo on my profile. This is a fun fact that lots of my friends know about. Starkist actually follows me on Instagram. The idea always makes me laugh. My dad was a tuna mascot and Nemo is a fish that everyones trying to find (Finding Nemo). All kidding aside people called me Captain Nemo back in my high school days. When I was late to class I had a teacher that said I was 20,000 leagues under the sea and late.
So the fish and ocean jokes keep going! Jokes like “I found Nemo!”
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