Henry Lawrence just turned 65 but he has no plans for slowing down. “It just means now I officially get my Medicare,” Henry chuckles.
Whether he’s singing at a local jam or helping raise funds for a charity, he has a huge presence around town both in talent and stature. At 6-foot-four, weighing in at 310 pounds, he wasn’t hard to find in the crowd at the Clam Jam at Cortez Clam Factory last Tuesday night. He was just hard to tackle because everyone and his brother seemed to want to hug him or talk to him, even after we sat down for an interview. One man came up and asked if he’d sing at his church.
“I have a hard time saying ‘no,’” Henry said as the man left and he looked at me with that intense, somewhat intimidating, yet teddy-bear look he has.
Henry was an offensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders; a three-time Super Bowl champion; two-time Pro Bowl champ and his pro football career ended in 1987. But even while he was juggling the pigskin, he was singing at a variety of venues, including being a lead singer for a country western band in Chico, California.
He’s sung at Super Bowl celebrations; Hall of Fame after parties; performed in the NFL Gospel Choir; and at an endless list of private functions and fundraisers. And he’ll be singing at the Oakland Raiders’ half time show in October. He’s appeared on Arsenio Hall and Soul Train. And had some television gigs including First and Ten, an HBO series.
Henry grew up on a farm and even then, was competitive. He tried to pick more produce than his mom, but could never do it. Produce, packing, shipping, restaurants, bars, he’s done a little of everything he says, but his true love is singing.
“I’ve been singing all my life,” says the football star and life-long Palmetto, FL resident. “My older brother taught me…and my mom – she could sure hit those high notes.”
Henry grew up with Gospel, loves it still today, but his repertoire has expanded to everything from Motown and R&B to country and jazz.
“I sing any song I like,” Henry says. “But I put my own spin on it.”
You Look Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton. Frank Sinatra’s My Way. On Broadway and Walkin’ the Dog. They’re all Henry-ized and jazzed up with a little James Brown and Otis Redding pizzazz
He has a lot of favorites, ‘old-school songs’ he calls ‘em, which just happen to be on his latest CD, titled “Heart and Soul.” He didn’t cut it to get rich, just “to get it in the hands of the people and make ‘em smile.”
“And I can’t get out the door without singing Mustang Sally,” he says, rolling his eyes and nodding his head as most musicians do with an overplayed tune. But he does it. And people love him.
Henry’s charity work abounds and includes serving on the board of Manatee Children’s Services, as well as being a a charter board member of Father Kazar’s Open Door Foundation, affiliated with St. Stephens School.
“This (Open Door Foundation) is a charity that does what it says – 100 percent of those kids go to college.” He went on to say, “I try to influence young people (wanting to be musicians). First and foremost – make it your own. That’s the key to performing.”
Henry ran for Congress two years ago and got 39% of the votes. His advice to everyone?
“You have a voice. Use it. Register to vote. Vote. Vote. There are so many decisions being made that aren’t good for us.”
His goals for the rest of his ‘golden years?’
“To live my life,” Henry says, then he turns to talk to another person waiting in line to visit with him. He has three sons and three daughters and is single – you hear that ladies?
We locals are fortunate to have guys like Henry to make us smile. He normally makes an appearance at the Clam Jam at Cortez Clam Factory on Tuesday nights. Go check him out. Or ask him to perform for your private parties or fundraisers.
For more information, you can email Henry at henry.lawrence70 @ gmail.com
Photos by Patti Pearson and Facebook