The line-up this rainy Sunday evening at a Natasha’s Bistro and Bar includes music by the Black-Eyed Peas, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. It’s not an all-star benefit concert that’s lost its way. It’s J String, a combination of Lexington cellist Jacob Yates and Broadway actress Jessica Hendy. Much of their summer last year was spent putting their own spin on some of pop music’s biggest hits.
“I’ve done pop music with guitar and piano, and I’ve sung plenty of weddings,” Hendy says after sound check for the Natasha’s show. “I’ve had a few karaoke nights as well, but never with a cello, and that’s why it’s so fun because it’s just different.”
Hendy, who is based in Cincinnati, and Yates, who’s a student at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, met while working on the musical Next to Normal. The inspiration for their collaboration came while Yates sought shelter for his cello from a hot July day.
“I went over to her air-conditioned house – my apartment was not air conditioned – and by 8 o’clock that night, we had the idea to film a Lady Gaga song, ‘Edge of Glory,’” Yates says.
Not only did Hendy and Yates amuse themselves playing LaGaga. They recorded the performance with Hendy’s iPhone and put video on YouTube and Facebook.
“Immediately, because it was something new that we did, we had a lot of friends immediately share the video on their walls,” Hendy says. “So we were like, ‘Oh!’ So it got a lot of attention, right away. It didn’t go viral or anything, but for us, it got a lot of attention.”
They had a hit.
Hendy and Yates decided to build on that success covering two of the biggest hits of the summer: Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and One Direction’s “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful.”
Now, Yates and Hendy’s act just needed a name.
“The name was a very long process to get to,” Hendy says. “But J String, obviously my name’s a J and Jacob is a J and the only band instrument is a string instrument. And it’s kind of like G-string, and sex sells, so … ”
Yates adds, “It’s a win-win. Even my grandparents got that joke. My grandfather was like, ‘Did you know J-string is a type of underwear?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know what to say.’”
But the randy duo say an agent proposed a wide variety of names before they found a winner. One, Hendy clearly enjoys.
“You laugh, but by the end of the night, it will grow on you,” Hendy says to the Natasha’s audience, taking about her favorite alternative name. “You’ll be like,: Cello Kitty? I kinda like Cello Kitty. Cello! Cello Kitty! Just wait. Let it sink in. Get in your bones a little bit.”
J String really hadn’t contemplated a live performance until they recorded a video for David Guetta’s Titanium at Newport’s Thompson House. The owner liked what he heard and approached them about putting together a set. For it, they worked up more hits, new and old.
For Yates’ mom, Suzetta Yates, it was no surprise her classically trained son gravitated toward pop music.
“He had always been a pop music fan,” she says. “He always followed things on YouTube and what everyone was doing, so yes, he’s always been a fan.”
Where the act goes from this winter time show, J String’s partners can’t say. Yates is a sophomore at the Cincinnati conservatory and Hendy has musical theater obligations. But they do plan to make more videos and hope to book a New York date this summer.
Hendy says, “We’re just hoping that one person hears us or sees us who can help us do whatever we need to do next to take us to the next level, whatever that its.”
Until then, J String will continue to create its own variations on the pop charts.
Rich Copley covers arts and culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader and LexGo.com.