Six-time GRAMMY® Award-nominee Nnenna Freelon has earned a well-deserved reputation as a compelling and captivating live performer. Nnenna is currently in residence at The Venetian Las Vegas (September 18-October 29) starring in “Georgia on My Mind: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles” with the most awarded a capella group, Take 6, and with Las Vegas’ own Clint Holmes. Nnenna is no stranger to the music of the master singer –; she toured with Ray Charles, as she did with many of the greatest jazz artists including Ellis Marsalis, Al Jarreau, George Benson, and many others.
Recently, Nnenna triumphed in two other productions -- composer Laura Karpman’s undertaking of Langston Hughes’ “Ask Your Mama” at The Apollo Theater and The Hollywood Bowl with opera superstar Jessye Norman and the indie phenom band The Roots, and in SRO shows at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival with the Duke Ellington inspired “Dreaming The Duke” with classical star Harolyn Blackwell and pop-jazz-crossover pianist Mike Garson.
Nnenna’s talent is not limited to performing. Her TV appearance on In Performance At the White House, celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, led to the versatile songstress/composer having a featured song on the hit TV show Mad Men. That was followed by a new collaboration on tour with legendary guitarist Earl Klugh. 2011 brought her first collaboration with legendary guitarist Earl Klugh as 2012 brought her first collaboration with legendary pianist Ramsey Lewis.
She is particularly excited about her venture as the writer, composer and producer of her original theatrical presentation of The Clothesline Muse, a work of dance, music, spoken word and more that premiered at the Painted Bride Arts Center in Philadelphia in 2014 with a national tour planned for 2015. The production was accomplished with the assistance of her daughter, visual artist Maya Freelon-Asant and Kariamu Welsh, Chairman of Dance at Temple University. The play won a National Theater Project creation grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), a much sought after honor only awarded to six worthy recipients. The play has also been recognized by the National Performance Network.
“The play explores the clothesline as a metaphor of our community lifeline and its ties to our environment,” explains Nnenna. The cast is composed of six dancers and the multi-disciplines are ties together through song and words performed extraordinarily in Nnenna’s unique style. This is not her first stint acting. Freelon made her feature film debut in What Women Want starring Mel Gibson.
Nnenna has always been respected as an artist and for her passion for education. In November 2011, The White House asked Freelon to headline the Asia Pacific Economic Summit, for 300 Presidents, Premiers and Heads of State from around the world. This was on the heels of receiving the YWCA of North Carolina’s inaugural “Legend Award” for her outstanding artistry and her dedication to education.
Freelon has dedicated herself to educating young people, both musicians and non-musicians, and students of all ages. She toured the United States for four years as the National Spokesperson for Partners in Education. Her master classes and workshops, from “Sound Sculpture” to the ground-breaking “Babysong,” teach adults and children that you too can change the world –; even one person at a time. With her anthem “One Child at a Time” found on her “Soulcall” recording, Freelon took on the task of fundraising and bringing greater attention to the needs of children in education through mentoring and the arts. It has become one of the most sought-after songs by countless organizations including the United Way.
Honors and awards are nothing new for Nnenna. She was named a 2010 “Woman of Substance” by Bennett College for Woman, delivered the Keynote Address for the 2010 Arts Midwest Conference, and much more. Freelon is a winner of both the Billie Holiday Award from the prestigious Academie du Jazz and the Eubie Blake Award from the Cultural Crossroads Center in New York City. She was nominated twice as “Lady of Soul” by the Soul Train Awards.
At the 43rd annual GRAMMY Awards telecast from Los Angeles, she inspired an enthusiastic standing ovation from 20,000 music-industry insiders and celebrities when she took to the stage, as do her ongoing concert, television and special event performances including such as the prestigious headline spot for ActionAID, Sir Elton John’s International AIDS fundraiser.
Born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Freelon received her undergraduate degree from Simmons College in Boston. Her parents and singing in the church gave the singer her first exposure to the arts –; especially to the art of jazz. Her father’s playing Count Basie recordings and her mother’s active involvement in their church led Freelon to an appreciation of all music and she eventually pursued a career in jazz. All the while, Freelon has cherished and held dear her two most important lifetime roles –; wife and mother. Her husband Phil Freelon is an award-winning architect based in North Carolina. As a mother of three, Freelon has led by example –; follow your dreams, dedicate yourself, and work hard in all you do.
Her recording career has brought consistent respect and sales for the artist both on her solo albums and those on which she collaborates or is featured in duets. Nnenna Freelon has created a diverse and outstanding legacy from her creativity to her performances that have garnered an ever-growing fan base from audiences worldwide to Presidents.