Acclaimed multi-disciplinary artist Anohni unites her music — which spans electronic, piano ballads, dance, experimental, and chamber pop — with her sou0lful voice and dedication to challenging injustice. She found international success with 2005′s Mercury Prize-winning I Am a Bird Now, which was issued under the moniker Antony and the Johnsons. The issues she confronted in her music — racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, and climate change, to name a few — came to the fore on 2016′s electronic-oriented, Mercury-nominated solo debut album Hopelessness. Later that year, her song “Manta Ray” from the environmental documentary Racing Extinction earned an Academy Award nomination. With 2017′s Paradise EP, the haunting take on Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” that appeared ahead of the 2020 Republican National Convention, and Anohni and the Johnsons’ soulful 2023 album My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross, she continued to combine activism and vulnerability in powerful ways.
Born in the U.K. and raised in California, Anohni Hegarty (born Antony Hegarty) took inspiration from British new wave singers including Boy George, Alison Moyet, Kate Bush and Marc Almond while growing up. After her family moved to California, she was moved again by great American musicians including Donnie Hathaway, Otis Redding and Nina Simone. In 1990, Anohni relocated to New York City to study experimental theater at New York University. During this time, she experimented as a songwriter and performer in the underground nightclubs of the early ’90s. She co-founded a collective called Blacklips Performance Cult, a group that performed each Monday night at the Pyramid Club between 1992 and 1995. Anohni’s own image as a singer during that period was inspired by Blue Velvet-era Isabella Rossellini and a drawing of a woman with a shaved head from on the cover of Soft Cell’s 1982 single “Torch.”
When Anohni was awarded a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts for a production of The Birth of Anne Frank/The Ascension of Marsha P. Johnson, she recruited a group of supporting musicians that ultimately became the Johnsons. Naming themselves after the gay liberation activist, Antony and the Johnsons formed in 1998 and often performed at venues including the Knitting Factory and the Pyramid Club. The group also recorded a demo that caught the ear of Current 93′s David Tibet. Featuring Baby Dee and William Basinski among its players, Antony and the Johnsons appeared on Tibet’s Durtro label in 2000. That year, Anohni had a singing role in Steve Buscemi’s film Animal Factory. In 2001, the band returned with the I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy EP, which included covers of Current 93′s “Soft Black Stars” and David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti’s “Mysteries of Love.” In the following years, Anohni made an appearance on the Lou Reed albums The Raven and Animal Serenade and accompanied Reed on a world tour as part of his band during 2003.
After the release of November 2004′s The Lake EP on Secretly Canadian, Antony and the Johnsons issued their second full-length, I Am a Bird Now, on the label in February 2005. Featuring performances by Reed, Boy George, Rufus Wainwright and Joan Wasser, the album was widely acclaimed for its haunting mood and won the Mercury Prize. After the win, I Am a Bird Now reached the Top 20 of the U.K. Albums chart and appeared on charts throughout Europe. Meanwhile, the singles “Hope There’s Someone” and “You Are My Sister” both entered the U.K. Singles chart. The album was certified gold in the U.K., Norway, and Sweden. While the group spent the better part of two years playing shows in support of I Am a Bird Now, Anohni also collaborated with video artist Charles Atlas on the touring performance piece Turning. Combining a concert by Antony and the Johnsons with live video portraits created by Atlas, it featured an assembly of NYC women including some of transgender experience, such as Honey Dijon, Johanna Constantine, Connie Fleming, Julia Yasuda, Kembra Pfahler, Eliza Douglas and others. Late in 2006 and early in 2007, Anohni appeared in Reed’s first full performances of the album Berlin in New York City and Sydney, Australia. Additionally, Anohni appeared on Björk’s 2007 album Volta and in the Leonard Cohen documentary I’m Your Man. She contributed vocals to several singles by Hercules & Love Affair, including the driving 2008 Top 40 U.K. hit “Blind.” In July 2008, an exhibition in Brussels showcased her visual artwork.
Antony and the Johnsons returned in October 2008 with the Another World EP, which appeared on several European charts as well as those of Australia and the U.S., where it reached number four on the Top Heatseekers chart. January 2009′s full-length The Crying Light was mixed by Bryce Goggin and featured arrangement contributions by Nico Muhly. Revolving around “landscape and the future,” The Crying Light topped the European Billboard charts and was a Top Ten hit in countries including France and Italy, and reached the Top 20 in the U.K. and Germany. In the U.S., it reached 65 on the 200 Albums chart and seven on the Independent Albums chart. Following the North American and European tours for the album, Antony and the Johnsons performed the album at the 2009 Manchester International Festival with the Manchester Camerata and laser effects by installation artist Chris Levine. Later in the year, Anohni curated the exhibition 6 Eyes at Paris’ Agnes B. Galerie Du Jour, played with Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band at Ornette Coleman’s Meltdown Festival, and collaborated with Bryce Dessner on a version of Bob Dylan’s “I Was Young When I Left Home” for the Red Hot Organization’s AIDS benefit album Dark Was the Night.
In August 2010, Antony and the Johnsons issued Thank You for Your Love EP, which included minimalistic covers of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” ahead of that October’s Swanlights. A lushly orchestrated version of the project’s art-pop, the album cracked the Top 20 of several countries in Europe and peaked at 28 on the U.K. Album charts; in the U.S., it reached number 122 on the 200 Albums chart. In 2011, Abrams Books issued a companion edition of Swanlights as a hardcover art book, with Hegarty’s paintings, drawings, photography, collages, song lyrics, and writings. At that year’s Manchester International Festival, Anohni was the musical director for The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, an experimental opera based on the legendary performance artist’s biography. Early in 2012, Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum presented a solo exhibition of Anohni’s sculptures and drawings. Around this time, Antony and the Johnsons performed Swanlights at New York’s Radio City Hall, again working with Levine for the show’s visual effects (subsequently, the production was staged at London’s Royal Opera House and Madrid’s Teatro Real). That August, the band released Cut the World, a symphonic retrospective arranged and performed in collaboration with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra. It featured 11 tracks from Anohni’s catalog and the title track, a new song written for The Life and Death of Marina Abramović. Awarded double silver certification for its sales throughout Europe, the album hit 41 on the U.K. Albums chart and 42 on the Independent Albums chart in the U.S.
Anohni’s 2013 projects included a solo exhibition at New York City’s Sikkema Jenkins Gallery and a performance with Franco Battiato at the Verona Arena documented by November’s Del Suo Veloce Volo. In 2014, Anohni staged another exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins and launched the exhibition and event series Future Feminism with Pfahler, Johanna Constantine, and CocoRosie’s Bianca and Sierra Casady. A 13-day festival accompanied the exhibition and featured Abramović, Juliana Huxtable, and Laurie Anderson. Also in 2014, the soundtrack to Atlas’ documentary about Turning was released in tandem with a concert film. The following year, Anohni contributed vocals to “Atom Dance,” a song from Björk’s album Vulnicura, while Antony and the Johnsons performed at Tasmania’s Dark Mofo festival in support of the Martu people of Western Australia and their fight against the development of a uranium mine near their community of Parnngurr.
In November 2015, Anohni issued “4 Degrees,” the first single from her debut solo album. Arriving in May 2016, Hopelessness was a collaboration with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never that reflected her growing frustration with humanity in its dark, experimental electronics. Once again charting throughout Europe, the album peaked at 26 on the U.K. Albums chart and 121 on the 200 Albums chart in the U.S. In 2016, Anohni also staged the exhibition My Truth at Germany’s Kunsthalle Bielefeld museum and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song, with J. Ralph, for “Manta Ray,” which appeared in the 2015 environmental documentary film Racing Extinction. Early 2017 saw the release of the Hopelessness companion EP Paradise, which reached 24 on the U.S. Heatseekers Albums chart; later in the year, Anohni appeared on CocoRosie’s single “Smoke ’Em Out.” That August, Anohni, Pfahler, and Constantine presented Future Feminism in Aarhus, Denmark. The following year, Anohni created a multimedia exhibition for Copenhagen’s Nikolaj Contemporary Art Center that collected items from her days in New York’s experimental theater scene and archival videos of her 1996 production Miracle Now as well as paintings and sculptures. To commemorate the exhibit, Anohni released the song “Miracle Now” on YouTube. Another exhibition, LOVE, was hosted by New York City’s The Kitchen in 2019 and accompanied by a book of photos by Erika Yasuda, the wife of Anohni’s late collaborator and friend Julia Yasuda. Also in 2019, Anohni staged the play She Saw Beautiful Things, which featured Atlas, Anderson, and Fleming among its performers. In 2020 she issued covers of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” Nina Simone’s “Be My Husband,” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
Anohni’s early-2020s projects included scoring Fragile Future, a 2021 sculpture installation by the artist collective Drift, and singing and co-writing six of the songs on Hercules & Love Affair’s 2022 album In Amber. She then reunited with her band as Anohni and the Johnsons, who released the soulful protest single “It Must Change” in May 2023. The song was the first taste of that July’s full-length My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross. Co-produced by pop/soul songwriter Jimmy Hogarth, the album was shaped by the loss of several of Anohni’s close friends, the worsening effects of climate change, and musical touchstones such as Jimmy Scott and Marvin Gaye’s What's Going On. Featuring an image of Marsha P. Johnson on its cover, My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross built on its American soul foundations with British folk and experimental music. ~ Heather Phares & James Christopher Monger