Watch CBS News

Longtime Chicago music teacher preaches excellence in whatever his students do

Black History Month: Meet Mr. Henry, a music instructor inspiring students
Black History Month: Meet Mr. Henry, a music instructor inspiring students 04:02

CHICAGO (CBS) – This Black History Month, CBS 2 wanted to feature a historic music teacher and his choir of students

Daniel Henry has been on the job for 20 years. He is one of the co-founders of After School Matters, a Chicago nonprofit, and is responsible for introducing thousands of high schoolers to music education. Some of his students have gone on to become musicians. Others have chosen a different path, but Mr. Henry makes sure they all leave with the same standard of excellence.

He teaches at the HHW School of the Performing Arts. One of the "Hs" stands for Henry.

Along with two of his colleagues, Mr. Henry had a passion for teaching vocals, but he had nowhere to do it. So they decided to create their own school, just one without walls.

"We didn't have the resources to build our own building," Henry said. "And we said we'll teach in other peoples' walls and so the walls that we've landed in right here at After School Matters."

After 24 years teaching thousands of students, Henry said the partnership "has been a marriage, lasting longer than some marriages."

Henry said they don't plan on breaking it off anytime soon.

"I will retire when my body says it is time to slip the surly bonds of earth," Henry said. "That's when I will retire."

Students can audition to study with HHW as soon as they graduate from middle school.

"We have students from all over the city," Henry said. "And when they come together from different backgrounds, different neighborhoods, there's a natural, organic synergy that happens, and they get excited about the arts."

One of his students, Sierra Sims, said she's been at HHW since she was 14 years old and will turn 18 this year. Like many students, she hasn't stopped singing with Mr. Henry since she started.

"I love watching an artist emerge from a student after a year or two of study," Henry said.

And in the way Mr. Henry loves his students, Sims said she "loves Mr. Henry!"

She added, "Not only that he's funny, but he's so full of experiences and he's so wise and he knows everything."

While it is a vocal class, it goes far beyond the performing arts.

"I try to communicate to them the need to pursue excellence in whatever you do," Henry said. "To see them emerge and realize that their future is in their own hands."

He added, "No one wants a surgeon that doesn't know how to cut properly. No one wants a dentist that can't fill a tooth properly and no one wants a singer that sings out of tune all the time."

The program's alumni have ended up in many professions doing all sorts of jobs from singing to surgery.

"I often say, 'Do what you wanna do. I'm not trying to make an opera singer out of you,'" Henry said.

Though opera is most definitely a part of the curriculum, the whole education students receive is based on exploration.

"And that's what we're here for," Henry said. "It's a collaborative effort to simply explore things that are difficult to do on the individual level. You need a group. So when you see all of that come to life, you don't ever want to retire."

The HHW School for the Performing Arts has sung internationally in front of esteemed guests and politicians. They've produced dozens of young people who have grown up to become music teachers themselves.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.