Producer Jack Nitzsche called her “The Queen of the Beatniks” and Woody Allen drew upon elements of her life and style while writing Annie Hall. She opened shows for Lenny Bruce and enjoyed a circle of creative friends that included Phil Ochs, Jackson Browne, and Shel Silverstein.
After moving to San Diego in 1959, folk and blues legend Judy Henske got her start in Pacific Beach coffeehouses. Around 1962, she joined ex-Kingston Trio member Dave Guard in the Whisky Hill Singers and recorded an album with them. Elektra Records was impressed enough with her to sign her up for a pair of albums, which she promoted in various Greenwich City clubs after relocating to NYC. She really began to earn national notice for her 1964 single “High Flying Bird.”
She followed up with albums on the Mercury and Reprise labels, performing on TV's The Judy Garland Show and appearing alongside Johnny Cash in the 1963 film Hootenanny Hoot. During this period, she also starred in an Off-Broadway musical written by Anita Loos (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) called Gogo Loves You.
Famous former San Diego neighbor Frank Zappa released Henske's 1969 Farewell Aldebaran full-length, produced by her husband (composer Jerry Yester), on his own Straight Records label, which also put out an album by her band Rosebud in 1971.
Later in the 70s, she wrote several hit songs with her second husband, keyboardist and composer Craig Doerge, including “Yellow Beach Umbrella” (recorded by Three Dog Night and Bette Midler), “Might as Well Have a Good Time” (covered by Crosby, Stills & Nash), and “Sauvez-Moi” (which topped the French record charts for Johnny Hallyday).
Henske wrote articles for the San Diego Reader in the 1990s. A new album called Loose in the World was released in 1999, followed by She Sang California (2004), and then a two-CD Rhino Records career retrospective called Big Judy: How Far This Music Goes, 1962-2004.
By 2022, Henke was living at a Los Angeles area hospice facility during a long illness. She passed away on April 27, at the age of 85.