A family of musicians who are also seventh-generation family farmers performed at the recent Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin business conference in Madison. The Henningsens have farmed on their central Illinois land for 145 years and recently branched out into country music, writing songs for other artists and touring and recording themselves.
The group includes lead singer Clara Henningsen, her brother Aaron Henningsen on lead guitar and vocals and their dad Brian Henningsen on bass and vocals.
The group sang at several points during the conference in Madison to an appreciative audience of fellow farmers. They opened the conference with their song "Why I Farm" with lyrics that bring to life some of the thoughts, feelings and experiences that were shared by their audience.
"Why I farm is in my blood. It's more than just a living; it's my way of life. It's who I'm meant to be," the group sang. The song's lyrics mention the flood of '93 and the Drought of '88 – two events which stand out for anyone who was involved in farming during those tough periods. "We always pulled through when we thought we would break," the song lyric adds.
Their "Why I Farm" was produced last year in collaboration with Beck's, the largest family owned retail seed company in the United States. The trio partnered with the seed company as part of a mission to honor family farmers.
The Beck's Why I Farm movement began in 2013 and has to date honored 20 farmers by sharing their personal, heartfelt stories of dedication, passion and triumph. (For more go to www.whyifarm.com) The Henningsen's video of the new song is also on that website. It is shot in a barn with the trio performing and is filled with family photos of grandfathers and young sons.
Dad Brian Henningsen played in bands on and off in the 1980s and early 1990s until his music career took a back seat to taking over the family farm.
Fast forward to a chance meeting at church that brought his son Aaron together with Wynonna Judd's husband Cactus Moser, who is also a member of the band Highway 101. Moser shared some demo recordings from the family trio with producers.
Since then the group has had success writing songs for The Band Perry — like "All Your Life" and "You Lie," which they performed at the PDPW meeting — and for Wynonna Judd, Sara Evans and Billy Currington as well as Highway 101.
In addition to signing with a record label and putting out their own record, "American Beautiful" the Henningens have toured with Brad Paisley.
The Henningsens said they were very pleased to put their thoughts and feelings about farming into words and music for the Beck's project.
"People don't realize the time, heartache, energy, money, and most of all the risk it takes to bring food to the grocery store," said Brian Henningsen. "We hope this song will help bring that image to life for consumers."