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Nnenna Freelon

About this Artist

Seven-time Grammy nominee Nnenna Freelon is a compelling artist and captivating performer with numerous accolades and activities. She and her son Pierce Freelon made Grammy history in 2021 as the first mother and son nominated in separate categories, hers in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category for Time Traveler, and his in the Best Children’s Music Album category for Black to the Future. AnceStars (2023), her first collaborative recording with Pierce, received a Grammy nomination for Best Children’s Music Album. Nnenna’s podcast, Great Grief with Nnenna Freelon, garnered Ambie Awards in 2021 and 2022, her debut seasons. She received the 2022 Jazz Masters Award from the prestigious Women’s Jazz and Blues Association of Palm Springs. In 2023, Nnenna continued to star alongside Take 6, Tom Scott, Kirk Whalum, and Clint Holmes in the critically acclaimed show Georgia on My Mind: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles, being no stranger to the music of the master singer, having toured with him, as well as with many other great jazz artists including Al Jarreau, George Benson, Benny Golson, and Ellis Marsalis.

In her ongoing work to foster community, the arts, and education, Nnenna founded the NorthStar Church of the Arts in Durham, NC. Her efforts to reach across diverse audiences follow such honors as an invitation by the White House to headline the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference for 300 presidents, premiers, and heads of state from around the world and the YWCA of North Carolina’s recognition of her outstanding artistry and dedication to education with its inaugural Legend Award.

Nnenna’s productions include the original presentation of The Clothesline Muse, a devised theatrical work of dance, music, spoken word, vibrant art, and projections. She is also one of the stars of the musical theater piece. The play won a National Theater Project creation grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts, a much sought-after honor. Freelon made her feature film debut in What Women Want, starring Mel Gibson.

In the company of other great artists, Nnenna triumphed in composer Laura Karpman’s undertaking of Langston Hughes’ Ask Your Mama at The Apollo Theater, and she shared an astounding Hollywood Bowl concert with opera superstar Jessye Norman and the indie phenom band The Roots. She also wowed audiences at 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. The versatile songstress/composer’s TV appearances on In Performance at the White House on ABC, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, led to her having a featured song on the hit TV show Mad Men. That was followed by a collaboration on tour with legendary guitarist Earl Klugh and with legendary pianist Ramsey Lewis.

Nnenna received the Youth Empowerment Through the Arts Award and an Artist of the Year Award from the National Association of Women in the Arts. She was named a “Woman of Substance” by Bennett College, delivered a keynote address for the Arts Midwest Conference, and much more. Freelon is a recipient of the Billie Holiday Award from the prestigious Académie du Jazz and the Eubie Blake Award from the Cultural Crossroads Center in New York City.