- 1 Early Life and Family
- 2 Career
- 2.1 German pop-rock band, AnnenMayKantereit
- 2.2 How the band was formed
- 2.3 The signature sound of AnnenMayKantereit
- 2.4 Self-titled indie album
- 2.5 Signed with music labels
- 2.6 Breakthrough album – “Alles Nix Konkretes”
- 2.7 Enduring impact on German music
- 2.8 Went viral and made it to the Billboard charts
- 3 On writing songs
- 4 Musical Ventures Beyond AnnenMayKantereit
- 5 Coping with fame
- 6 Personal Life
- 7 Interesting Facts
- 8 Appearance
- 9 Net Worth
In the vibrant tapestry of German indie music, one name stands out for its soul-stirring resonance and unfiltered emotional depth – Henning May. As the lead vocalist of the acclaimed band AnnenMayKantereit, Henning has not only become a driving force behind their success but has also emerged as a distinct and influential voice in the contemporary music scene.
Early Life and Family
Henning May was born Henning Gemke on 13 January 1992, in Cologne, Germany. His parents parted ways when he was quite young, and from that point on, his father took on the responsibility of raising Henning and his older brother. However, Henning mostly lived alone with his father, as his brother moved out fairly early.
Life had not been easy for Henning and his father, particularly when he was 14 or 15. They frequently argued, sometimes over trivial matters. For instance, while Henning tended to be a bit messy, the cramped quarters of their small apartment made it seem almost inevitable. His father, a schoolteacher, preferred things to be neat. During that period, Henning frequently skipped school. As a result, his father made a concerted effort to drive him to school every day, ensuring he attended regularly.
His relationship with his father hadn’t always been difficult. During his childhood, he admired his father and harbored aspirations of becoming a teacher like him. He eagerly embraced many of his father’s interests, such as a love for books and football. However, conflicts emerged when he started expressing his opinions openly and questioning his father’s views. Simply put, they didn’t see eye to eye. It became challenging for his father when Henning suddenly began to feel like his opponent.
After he matriculated from high school, things improved and took a completely positive turn. Their relationship significantly improved as his father learned to accept Henning as an adult. This shift allowed Henning to listen more to his father, making their conversations more equal and at eye level. His father’s opinions no longer felt condescending to him; Henning admired his father for the discipline with which he balanced his job and his role as a parent. To him, his father remains an authority, someone whose opinion he uses as a measure for himself, as well as an ongoing source of inspiration.
Of note, as his parents weren’t married, Henning was initially given his mother’s surname upon birth. Due to his strong bond with his father, however, he opted to adopt his father’s family name, May, as his stage name.
From the cobblestone streets of Cologne, where the band first captivated passersby with impassioned busking sessions, to sold-out concert halls across Germany and beyond, Henning May’s journey is a testament to the power of authenticity and the magnetic allure of his raspy, heartfelt vocals.
German pop-rock band, AnnenMayKantereit
AnnenMayKantereit, an indie pop-rock band hailing from Cologne, boasts a unique name that might be a bit difficult to pronounce at first. The moniker cleverly combines the surnames of the three founding members: Christopher Annen, skillfully handling the guitar and harmonica; Henning May, contributing soulful vocals and piano mastery; and Severin Kantereit, providing the rhythmic backbone on drums and cajón.
— AnnenMayKantereit (@henningmayy) December 17, 2018
How the band was formed
The trio’s story unfolds within the walls of Schiller-Gymnasium, a grammar school nestled in the Sülz district of Cologne. Henning and Severin were in the same grade, while Christopher was a year ahead. They forged a connection, but their musical journey truly ignited after school. In 2011, Henning and Christopher hit the streets with their music from morning till night. A few weeks later, Severin joined them, solidifying his place as a permanent bandmate. Since then, their daily routine has included creating music that reflects their collaborative spirit. Lars Lötgering joined the band as its fourth member, playing contrabass until 2014. He was succeeded by Malte Huck on electric bass until 2020, and the current electric bassist is Sophie Chassée.
Busking on the streets of Cologne in their early days, the group performed covers of popular songs along with some original material, capturing the attention of the locals. Henning admitted that each live performance on the streets required courage, as they played their music for passersby. He explained that people are often busy going about their day, making it challenging to persuade them to stop and listen. Buskers, he added, are directly exposed to people’s reactions. A positive reception can inspire and uplift their mood, while a negative or indifferent one can be disheartening at times. Henning shared that they’ve encountered numerous amusing situations, from a child repeatedly taking money from their case, to shop owners advising them to move on.
Their raw and soulful performances garnered an expanding fan base, propelling them from street performances to local venues. A friend played a pivotal role by establishing a YouTube channel for them in which videos of their street music were featured, catapulting them into sudden fame.
The signature sound of AnnenMayKantereit
The band draws inspiration from a variety of genres, including indie, pop and folk, resulting in a dynamic and versatile musical palette. They captured attention with songs that delve into real emotions and everyday experiences—love, loss, and friendship. Describing their music as a fusion of angry youth with gentle songs and lively blues with fun pop, they express a preference for “real” instruments over synthesizers. Their style is characterized by directness and authenticity, with Henning’s distinct deep raspy voice completing the unmistakable sound of AnnenMayKantereit.
Self-titled indie album
From the outset, they charted their own course, deliberately avoiding major labels and studios with the aim of preserving independence and being involved in every aspect of the music-making process. Their self-titled album was entirely independently produced and recorded in a live setting. The first half was captured outdoors on an old platform, while the second half was recorded in a quaint gallery in Cologne-Sülz. Authenticity was paramount for them, as they wanted to ensure that their distinctive “street sound” was faithfully preserved. The outcome left them highly satisfied. Their songs were initially released in 2013 on their dedicated YouTube channel. Following the publication of the song “Wo Du Gehst” (“Where You Go”) on the video-sharing site in 2014, the band garnered nationwide recognition. Subsequently, they embarked on a tour across Germany, predominantly performing in clubs and at festivals.
Signed with music labels
In 2015, they took a significant step by signing a record deal with Universal Music Group. Subsequently, in 2019, they broadened their horizons by signing a worldwide publishing contract with BMG Rights Management.
Breakthrough album – “Alles Nix Konkretes”
The success of their debut studio album, “Alles Nix Konkretes” (“Nothing Concrete”), released in 2016 under Vertigo Records, marked a significant milestone in their career. Comprising 12 tracks, the album included standout singles such as “Barfuß am Klavier” (“Barefoot at the Piano”) and “Pocahontas,” which reached No. 51 and No. 31, respectively, on the German singles chart. The album debuted at No.1 on the German and Austrian album charts and secured the sixth position on the Swiss album chart. In 2017, they earned a nomination for Best Alternative Music Album at the Grammy Awards.
Enduring impact on German music
AnnenMayKantereit has sustained success with subsequent albums, including “Schlagschatten” (“Shadow”), released in 2018 under Vertigo, which secured the No.2 spot on the German album chart. In addition, they founded their music label, AnnenMayKantereit Records, and launched two studio albums: “12” (2020) and “Es ist Abend und wir sitzen bei mir” (2023). Both albums entered the German album charts, with the former reaching No.4 and the latter claiming the No.1 position. The band’s ability to forge emotional connections with listeners, coupled with May’s powerful vocals, has firmly established their presence in the German music scene.
In 2019, AnnenMayKantereit collaborated with the German indie rock band Giant Rocks to create a cover of “Tom’s Diner” by the American singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega. This rendition gained widespread attention on TikTok in 2022, accumulating over 25 million views, and on YouTube more than 135 million views. The cover reached impressive chart positions, peaking at No.78 on the Billboard Hot 100 and securing the No.8 spot on the Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart.
On writing songs
Henning revealed the close friendship that binds the three of them together—a camaraderie that thrives on open discussions about everyday matters. From these conversations, a poignant line often emerges, serving as the starting point for the creation of a new song. Despite this collaborative process, the completion of lyrics tends to be a gradual undertaking. Additionally, they engage in independent writing, with each member occasionally bringing their own set of lyrics to the table.
All three members contribute to the band’s music, with Henning taking on a significant role, especially as the lead vocalist. His songwriting goes beyond the surface, exploring personal experiences, relationships, and moments of introspection. According to Henning, the key to creating authentic songs lies in honesty and self-reflection. One must confront the truth without pretense and articulate the emotions stirring within. Emphasizing the importance of quantity in his creative process, he states that he needs to write extensively to get a few sentences that truly resonate. For him, the focus is on composing sincere songs—not necessarily about himself, but for himself.
Crafted the song “Oft Gefragt” for his father
Henning delved into the complexities of his relationship with his father, and expressed his feelings in the song “Oft Gefragt” (“Often Asked”). The lyrics reflect a poignant sentiment: “You often wondered what was tearing me apart. I didn’t want you to know. You were home alone, missing me and wondering what else you were to me.” Notably, the line “You are home forever and me” holds particular significance in the song, symbolizing the central theme. To Henning, home embodies unconditional love, a sentiment his father made abundantly clear. Regardless of any missteps, Henning knew he could rely on his father’s unwavering love, providing him with an incredible sense of security. His father effortlessly conveyed this assurance, making home an unshakable foundation and a source of stability for him.
Musical Ventures Beyond AnnenMayKantereit
Henning May has explored solo projects and collaborations with other artists. These endeavors showcase his versatility as a musician and his commitment to evolving creatively. His vocal style is often characterized by its soulful and raspy quality, contributing to the band’s unique sound. Unsurprisingly, his collaborative efforts have been met with success. In 2015, he was featured in the title track “Hurra die Welt geht unter” (“Hooray, The World Is Going Down”) from the self-titled album by the German hip-hop group K.I.Z. The song achieved triple gold status and peaked at No. 31 on the German singles chart. In 2019, Henning collaborated with German rapper Juju on the song “Vermissen” (“Miss”), earning diamond status and securing the top position on the German singles charts.
Coping with fame
Initially, Henning struggled to handle the sudden surge of attention. Overwhelmed, he withdrew from others, resorting to substances like pot and alcohol in an attempt to numb himself. Engaging in nonstop partying, he denied himself any respite. However, with time, he discovered a more constructive way to navigate success and public scrutiny. Surprisingly, Hollywood star Sean Penn played a pivotal role in his journey; during a chance encounter, the actor and musician shared a few beers and delved into discussions about life. In that conversation, Henning realized that he didn’t aspire to reach the level of fame Sean Penn had attained. He came to accept his current level of fame as entirely acceptable.
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Henning May has kept his dating history private, and his social media posts don’t include obvious photos of a significant other. The ambiguity surrounding his personal life resulted in speculations about his sexual orientation. In an open interview, he addressed these rumors, acknowledging that some people use the term “gay” negatively to describe him. It’s important to note that Henning identifies as straight.
While he may not openly discuss having a life partner, he’s shared his vision of having children someday. Expressing a desire to impart the lessons he’s learned, he acknowledged the challenges that come with parenthood. Despite recognizing the stress associated with raising children, he finds the thought of his future son, in his mid-20s, sketching a picture of him, akin to how he once wrote a song for his own father, deeply touching.
Navigating a smooth relationship with his father wasn’t always straightforward. Reflecting on this, he acknowledged the intention to approach fatherhood differently with his own son. Emphasizing the importance of honesty, he believes in being transparent with children about their circumstances, steering clear of illusions or false hopes. Recognizing children’s inherent ability to perceive the well-being of their parents, he expressed a commitment to prioritizing self-care when he eventually becomes a father.
- The song “Hooray, The World Is Going Down” has emerged as the unofficial anthem of Fridays For Future, also recognized as the School Strike for Climate—a climate movement orchestrated and driven by youths. No longer being in school himself, Henning finds it challenging to fully identify with them. However, he holds admiration for their efforts and actively supports the protest, having attended several times and performed for the crowd.
- As a prominent figure, it’s inevitable that a considerable number of people pay attention to what he says. While others might view this as a responsibility, he openly acknowledges being a musician without formal studies and prefers to maintain a low profile in areas where he lacks expertise. Reflecting on his role, he considers advocating for certain values. Specifically, he emphasizes the importance of discouraging homophobia, avoiding anti-Semitic jokes, and rejecting racist slogans.
- Recognizing his desire to make a difference, he decided to join a political party. He believed that his voice would carry more weight as a member, even though he chose not to disclose which party he aligned with.
- No matter how highly he regards his songs and the pride he takes in them, it makes him uncomfortable to listen to them in public. He expressed that walking across the street becomes challenging when his own voice emanates from speakers—it proves to be quite exhausting for him to hear himself.
Henning May stands at a height of 6ft 1in (186cms) and maintains a weight of 172lbs (78kgs), showcasing a lean physique. His features include short, curly dark brown hair and brown eyes.
As a member of the band, many are curious about how they divide their money. Henning prefers not to divulge all the details, mentioning only that they earn enough and that he is financially secure. During a podcast interview in December 2018, he even shared that if not a single copy of the album “Schlagschatten” recently released at that time, were sold, he could live on his savings for ten years. Given his dual role as the band’s vocalist and lyricist, it stands to reason that his earnings are substantial. Moreover, they continue to tour and perform at larger venues to this day. Henning’s financial standing is noteworthy, with an estimated net worth of $3 million as of December 2023, according to reputable sources.
Henning May’s journey from street performer to the frontman of AnnenMayKantereit reflects the power of genuine expression in music. With a distinctive voice and a penchant for storytelling, May continues to captivate audiences, leaving an enduring impact on the German music landscape as well as garnering international attention.