Henry McDaniel was not quite two years old when his mother suspected he would become a drummer.
Lots of kids beat on pots and pans, but Lynette Wright said one day she found her toddler Henry keeping a meticulous beat on a large upside-down Garrett's Popcorn tin.
The next Christmas, he received a three-year-old-sized drum set for Christmas, and he has been practicing every day ever since.
"Every single day," said Bobby Wright, McDaniel's stepfather, his voice half awed, half weary – the kind of tone you might expect from someone who has lived more than a dozen years with a drummer under his roof.
McDaniel, 19, beat out five other finalists – many older and more experienced – for the store title at the Highland Park Guitar Center Drum Off last Thursday.
"(Druming) is my very favorite thing to do," said McDaniel, who splits his time between his mother's house in Zion and living in Chicago with his father, also named Henry McDaniel.
The Highland Park Guitar Center is the one nearest Zion and McDaniel said he's probably in there once every week to two weeks. He thought about entering the talent search last year, and finally did this year.
"When I play, I am actually very passionate," said McDaniel, who has an affable calm about him when not sitting on the drum throne.
His three-minute solo this week was a harmonious blend of creative but solid timekeeping overlaid with distinct flourishes from his varied influences of gospel, jazz and rock.
Though the other five finalists were all talented, the judges had no trouble naming McDaniel the winner. The store prizes included a set of new drum heads, a cowbell, a small snare drum and two gift cards.
On November 4, he will compete at the Chicago-wide district finals in Arlington Heights for the chance to go to regionals, also in Arlington Heights and then the national drum-off in Hollywood, CA in January.
"Henry has become a much more mature drummer," said Brent Griffin, Jr., a fellow bandmate in Infuzd, a Chicago-based group with smooth jazz and gospel influences McDaniel joined a year and a half ago. Other than playing in a church, it's his first real band, and its members range in age from 15 to 21 years old.
"He has learned to lock well with the bass player and really give the song what it needs at any particular time," Griffin said. "He knows how to tastefully tell a story, build to a climax and come back down."
The band's manager and Griffin's dad, Brent Sr., said he is also amazed at how much and how fast McDaniel has improved.
"This dude is going pretty quick," Griffin, Sr. said. "He's dedicated to it. Just like anything else, timing equals success."
McDaniel has been playing drums most of his life, beginnning in church, including the Christian Faith Fellowship Church in Zion and God's House of Almations in Chicago, where his father also plays organ.
But he started off high school being more interested in playing football than drums, playing both running back and defensive end. But nearer the end of school, he said, he realized drumming was more than a hobby, it was a need.
"I felt like it would take me further than sports," McDaniel said. "It was what I needed to be doing."
His dream gig would be to play drums for R&B artist Jazmine Sullivan, or another gospel or R&B artist.
"I feel like playing drums is my gift given to me by God," McDaniel said. "I always try to remember that when I am playing."