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Nnenna Freelon

Nnenna Freelon

Six-time GRAMMY® Award-nominee Nnenna Freelon has earned a well-deserved reputation as a compelling and captivating live performer.  On the eve of two major project launches - The Clothesline Muse, marking Nnenna's stage-acting debut, and Georgia On My Mind: Ray Charles Tribute for a multi-week run in Las Vegas - this vivacious vocalist has been busy!  Appearing at the Democratic National Convention’s Media Day on Sept. 1, 2012, Freelon continues her international reach bringing attention to two of her passions—the art of jazz and the importance of education.

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“Freelon…sang with exquisite musicality and an unerring sense of swing.” – Los Angeles Time

“Freelon continues to grow and deepen as a vocalist…but still with a crystalline, impeccably tuned voice, with often imaginative, percolating, funk-based backing from her combo.” – Daily Variety

Six-time GRAMMY® Award-nominee Nnenna Freelon has earned a well-deserved reputation as a compelling and captivating live performer. Recently, Nnenna Freelon triumphed in two productions:  first, with Opera Superstar Jessye Norman and the Indie phenom band The Roots in composer Laura Karpman’s undertaking of Langston Hughes’ “Ask Your Mama” at The Hollywood Bowl and, second, 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.  The versatile songstress quickly followed that with notable turns with a featured song on TV’s # 1 cable hit Mad Men and with The World Famous Count Basie Orchestra to celebrate their new Mack Avenue recording on which she can be heard. 

Freelon’s seventh Concord Records release, Homefree, is available April 2010! A mix of tunes that Freelon identifies as “feeling at home in your own skin,” Homefree bubbles with the energy and creativeness that are hallmarks of Freelon’s recordings.

With her recent TV appearance on In Performance At The White House to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, TV called again for her voice in the Emmy-winning show “Mad Men.” 

That voice is to be heard on recording once again in 2010: Concord Records will release a new recording by Freelon – her first brand new recording in four years!  In 2009, Freelon made a Special Guest appearance on Mack Avenue’s recording of The Count Basie Orchestra while in 2008 Concord released two Freelon-centered recordings, the first entitled “Better Than Anything: The Quintessential Nnenna Freelon” celebrating her ever-expanding appeal and artistry; and the second recording “The Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary All Stars,” featuring Freelon in spectacular duets and group performances with Terrence Blanchard and James Moody.

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. Prior to that stirring appearance, Freelon’s performances for the legendary Julie Andrews at the Society of Singers’ “Ella Awards,” Variety’s The Children’s Charity (as a featured vocalist at the Stephen Sondheim Tribute at Carnegie Hall), Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethon and at the most famous jazz festivals around the globe have all been rousing successes. No wonder—for anyone who has heard and seen Freelon sing knows she is a skillful interpreter of even the most familiar chestnuts.   This reputation has brought her another command performance: headline spot for ActionAID, the International AIDS fundraiser with Sir Elton John, Andrea Bocelli, and many others attending.

On her Grammy-nominated (for Best Jazz Vocal Performance) release, “Blueprint Of A Lady: Sketches of Billie Holiday” (2005), Freelon paid tribute to the quintessential jazz vocalist Billie Holiday.  As inventive as ever, Freelon turned these Holiday-associated songs and fulfilled Billie Holiday’s message to all artists: “No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way with music or it isn’t music.”  With her own band, and with Ronald K. Brown & his dance troupe EVIDENCE, Freelon turned this into a multi-media music and dance offering unlike any show previously seen!  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.

On her fifth Concord Records release, “Live” (2003), Nnenna Freelon brought all of her alluring talents to bear. The result is a beguiling and intimate achievement. Recorded at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, on February 21 and 22, 2003, “Live” marked a decade-long recording career for Freelon, as well as 20-years on the road.

It has certainly been a heady decade for Freelon.  In addition to six GRAMMY nominations, Freelon also made her feature film debut in the Mel Gibson hit, What Women Want, and sang a remake of Sinatra’s classic, “Fly Me To The Moon” for The Visit, starring Billy Dee Williams. She has twice been nominated for the “Lady of Soul” Soul Train Award. What’s more, Freelon has performed and toured with a veritable who’s who in jazz, from Ray Charles and Ellis Marsalis to Al Jarreau and George Benson, among many others.

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 as 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 with his North Carolina-based firm The Freelon Group.  As a mother of three, Freelon has led by example – follow your dreams, dedicate yourself, and work hard in all you do.

Freelon explored the roles of vocalist, entertainer, composer, educator, arranger, and producer. “We continue to evolve—artists have hungry minds and hearts, so we’re always working on the next thing—but I felt it was just time to stop, take a breath, and enjoy! I’ve grown a lot, both musically and spiritually, on this journey. Before, many things were ‘first’ experiences, but now I’m going back to some of the same festivals and clubs, and realizing I am happy and content where I am. It’s great to see all the awards and career milestones building up,” she admits, “but it’s even nicer to realize people are coming to the shows and saying, ‘I saw you back in ’95!’ I’ve made a lot of friends on the road.”

An accomplished singer, composer, producer, and arranger (as well as budding actress), Freelon has dedicated herself to educating young people, both musicians and non-musicians.  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 – but it takes dedication and perseverance, the substance of Nnenna’s educational activities.  The messages in Nnenna’s activities go far beyond technique.  Her messages reach into the very soul of the person listening, encouraging and motivating them toward constructive change and the creation positive energy.

With her anthem “One Child At A Time” found on her “Soulcall” recording, Freelon took on the task of fund-raising 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 for its lyrics to its music and has been used by countless organizations including local, regional and national groups such as the United Way.

Earning consistently rave reviews from even the toughest of jazz critics and with her global fan base growing, Freelon is far from done, however. In fact, as she enters a new recording decade, one thing is certain—Nnenna Freelon is a true original!  


Better Than Anything: The Quintessential Nnenna Freelon     (2008 Concord)

Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary All Stars     (2008 Concord)

Blueprint Of A Lady: Sketches Of Billie Holiday     (2005 Concord)

LIVE     (2003 Concord)

Tales of Wonder     (2002 Concord)

Soulcall     (2001 Concord)

Maiden Voyage     (1998 Concord)

Shaking Free     (1996 Concord)

Listen     (1994 Columbia)

Heritage     (1993 Columbia)

Nnenna Freelon     (1992 Columbia)

Guest Appearances And Collaborations


The Visit

What Women Want (certified GOLD)

Voices Of Concord Jazz: Live At Montreaux

Church: Songs Of Soul & Inspiration  (certified GOLD)

A Great Night In Harlem

NPR Jazz Christmas With Marian McPartland And Friends

A Concord Jazz Christmas 2



Nnenna Freelon, Harolyn Blackwell, and Mike Garson –Dreaming the Duke


Nnenna Freelon and Evidence –Blueprint of a Lady


Nancy Wilson, Nnenna Freelon, and Rachael Price


Nnenna Freelon and The Count Basie Orchestra

T.S. Monk – Monk On Monk


Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra feat. Lew Tabackin – Carnegie Hall Concert


Yusef Lateef – Heart Vision


Quotes and Reviews - Nnenna Freelon

USA Today

"Freelon makes each song...such a personal statement that they all seem fresh and new."

The Hollywood Reporter

"...Nnenna Freelon really stood of the best vocalists in jazz, wrung every emotion out of her numbers..."


"Nnenna Freelon possesses that rarest of qualities... her phrasing is original, sometimes surprising, and often sweetly eccentric."

Urban Network Magazine

"She is a scattin' ball of fire... "

The New York Times

"For creamy vocal beauty, Nnenna Frelelon’s carefully wrought renditions of "I Remember" and "Children Will Listen" stood out (in the Carnegie Hall Tribute to Stephen Sondheim)."

The Washington Post


Friday, May 28, 2010




Kindred spirits: Dianne Reeves, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter

Show: Wednesday at the Birchmere. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. 703-549-7500.

"Homefree" isn't always as relaxed as its title suggests, but the performances certainly radiate a lived-in quality, and for good reason. Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon is a seasoned pro when it comes to freshening classic pop tunes, and "Homefree" offers many examples of her sure-footed artistry.

The performances pose real challenges. For starters, there's a brisk, octave-leaping interpretation of "The Lamp Is Low" that somehow manages to be at once dreamy and daring. Immediately afterward Freelon turns to "West Side Story" for inspiration, imbuing "I Feel Pretty" with elements of swing, blues and drama that personalize the performance.

"The Very Thought of You," the album's most spacious and soulful interpretation, follows, warmly enhanced by tenor saxophonist Ira Wiggins. Among the contemporary twists are a rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" that features rapper Pierce Freelon, the singer's 20-year-old son, and "Cell Phone Blues," an original lament that should delight concertgoers for years to come. Yet none of these novel touches is more enjoyable than Freelon's take on "Smile," which is firmly underpinned by bassists Wayne Batchelor and John Brown.

Collaborating with longtime colleagues and recruits from her home state of North Carolina, Freelon is in excellent company throughout, obviously inspired by the colorful arrangements fashioned by drummer Kinah Ayah and others.

-- Mike Joyce


Mike Joyce

New York Times


Heading into her encore at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on Tuesday night, Nnenna Freelon gave her audience the illusion of a choice. “Are you guys feeling frisky or sentimental?” she asked. Frisky, came the reply. Well, all right, then: the band struck up a light-funk groove, and Ms. Freelon plunged into one last song, parsing lyrics with syncopation. “Dreeeaam,” she sang, “beside me. In-the-mid-night-glow. The lamp. Is low.”

She was working with “The Lamp Is Low,” a songbook standard of murmuring ardor, and the opening track of her new album, “Homefree” (Concord). Here as on the album it suggested a showpiece, scaled for attention-grabbing. Its message was sentimental but its delivery frisky, so that the general mood fell somewhere in between. Ms. Freelon was on firm footing there, projecting clearly, hitting her notes and her mark.

A jazz singer of unstinting vivacity, Ms. Freelon draws on some of the sturdier pillars of her craft — Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, even Lena Horne, to whom she dedicated a brief version of “Stormy Weather” — without resorting to outright emulation. (Her most transparent debt is to Vaughan, in the caprice of her phrasing; she also knows how to borrow the dryly suggestive intonation of Billie Holiday.) She has a strong, supple voice, and she controls it well, often stretching out a note and slowly intensifying its effect, adding tension or vibrato, before clipping it off at the end.

She did something like this a few times during Cole Porter’s “I Love You,” ending one phrase on an elongated “me,” but with her lips nearly closed, so that the word buzzed through a clenched jaw. Later she ad-libbed a phrase, “more than you know,” finishing the last syllable with her mouth contorted in a grin, so that it sounded restless and pinched. These were decisions calibrated for drama, effectively. But drama isn’t the same thing as emotional expressiveness, which Ms. Freelon manages only rarely.

Her take on “The Very Thought of You” was stately but distant. “You and the Night and the Music” involved a kind of sultry performance art, as Ms. Freelon moved her arms like a voguing hieroglyph. And “Smile,” by Charlie Chaplin, was drained of pathos, reworked into a blithe polyrhythmic romp.

Her longtime band — the pianist Brandon McCune, the bassist Wayne Batchelor, the drummer Adonis Rose and the percussionist Beverly Botsford — backed her with crisp precision, giving each arrangement small but gratifying twists. What could they really accomplish, though, with “Cell Phone Blues,” an original full of corny double-entendre (“I’m a rollover kind of mama,” “Free on nights and weekends”)?

At least that tune was frisky. “America the Beautiful,” reconceived as a modal dirge, and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” featuring a walk-on by Ms. Freelon’s son, the rapper Pierce Freelon, came back-to-back in the final stretch, as on the album. They were momentum-killers, weighed down by their earnest sense of purpose. Had Ms. Freelon then included “noble” among her possible options, the crowd would have known what to do.



Nate Chinen

Photos - Nnenna Freelon

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Other Downloads

Click on the links for any of the additional promotional materials available for Nnenna Freelon to download. If you need other resources please give us a call.

View Nnenna Freelon - Christmas Show One Sheet   Nnenna Freelon - Christmas Show One Sheet

View Nnenna Freelon - The Clothesline Muse One Sheet   Nnenna Freelon - The Clothesline Muse One Sheet

View Nnenna Freelon One Sheet   Nnenna Freelon One Sheet

View Biography   Biography

View Nnenna Freelon Press Kit   Nnenna Freelon Press Kit

View Nnenna Freelon (solo)   Nnenna Freelon (solo)

Outreach Programs- Nnenna Freelon


In the classroom: Designed for a maximum of 25 students in a classroom setting.

Song writing 101

How do we tap our creativity? Where do discipline, self-esteem, collaboration come from,

The House of Song

Nnenna (occasionally conducted with pianist) For singers and non-singers alike, this clinic challenges the ideas of what is possible within the
framework of a song: expression, phrasing, lyrics,silence, emotional content are all explored.

Rock Music: Teaching Geology through Music

Developed at the Kennedy Center this integrated arts workshop teaches geology through music. Students are invited to look at the geologic science facts of the rock cycle from a different perspective. Students will learn to think in imaginative ways as they learn about how our earth was formed and the dynamic rock cycle No prior musical knowledge or skill is necessary. (Also available as a cross curriculum professional development workshop for teachers)


Educational Performances: typically designed for 100 or more students in small or large auditorium setting.

Concert with Conversation

Are there links between Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra? Who are some of great songwriters of the American Songbook? Who can we look to today? This is an interactive and informal concert with Nnenna and her band. The audience is invited to ask questions and engage in spirited discussion as we explore the popular music of the 1940’s-to current day. The music takes us on a surprising journey.

Jazz 101

This is a concert with Nnenna and her ensemble designed for the uninitiated jazzer. You don’t’ know Charlie Parker from Charles Barkley? You aren’t sure whether to clap on 1 and 3 or 2 and 4? You don’t know if it’s swings or not? Then this is the workshop for you. Rhythm, melody tempo, improvisation and dynamics are explored within the context of the jazz ensemble. Nnenna musically demonstrates the ways in which each member of the group contributes to the creation of the music.

The Art of Accompaniment

This is a duo performance in which Nnenna and her accompanist explore the ways in which the musician and singer communicate with each other. The creative dance and interplay between two musicians is a one o f music"s greatest mysteries. This is an experience in active listening and response.

Speaking Engagement

Special presentation: Speaking Engagements and Lectures

Building Bridges

Nnenna and Phil Freelon
What do music and architecture have in common? Phil and Nnenna Freelon, husband and wife, explore the creative process and its role
in how we take vision and make it reality. They discuss and off er their views on collaborations, design, and inspiration in creating.

Creativity and Family

How does creativity affect the family and relationships? Phil and Nnenna Freelon share the milestones in their journey together in raising
a family and growing their careers, navigating the waters of life in art and business. Part-motivation, part-inspiration, this presentation shows the
humor, dedication, and perseverance that help construct a desired life.

Arts Advocacy

Nnenna is a passionate supporter of arts education. In her role as the spokesperson for Partners in Education she spoke frequently on the need for more ART at the heart of American education and the value of teaching the whole child. Nnenna is also available for adjudication as well as vocal coaching for solo singers and choral ensembles.

Living Your Improvisational Life

eNnenna discusses her own incredible journey from that of wife and mother to internationally acclaimed jazz vocalist. Equal parts storyteller and actress Freelon shares her own personal account of weaving her multiple selves into an improvised tapestry of life.


Residency: Single to multi-day residencies

I am the Song: Songwriting (middle school - adult)

In this 1-3 day residency students learn about the craft of songwriting. Where do “good” ideas come? What makes a good song great? To rhyme or not to rhyme? What is a hook? Using the 12 bar blues form, students write lyrics and learn the magic of storytelling through song writing.

Be Bop to Hip Hop

In this 1 day residency Nnenna is joined by her son Pierce Freelon professor of Afican Americam History at UNC Chapel Hill. How do Cab Calloway and Jay Z connect in the pop culture continuum? Is the hip hop culture a new phenomenon? Is Jazz relevant in today’s world. Pierce and Nnenna explore these issues and more in this intergenerational workshop context of jazz and hip hop music.




No Business Like Show Business!

In this 1 day residency learn how to market yourself as a professional artist. The music business has changed drastically in the past 5 years. The internet has significantly leveled the playing field for artists. Learn how to take advantage, manage and achieve your goals on and off the bandstand.

*Additional clinics, workshop, and Master Classes available for smaller groups or in different configurations. Also available: Nnenna Freelon Guest Appearances with Big Band and Symphony conducted in conjunction with Educational Activities.

Special Projects - Nnenna Freelon


In the traditions of great collaborations, including those such as Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass; Nnenna and Earl will perform in a duo format, sharing the stage to lay bare the most beautiful and timeless lyrics and melodies from the past and present.

DREAMING THE DUKE: Nnenna Freelon, Harolyn Blackwell, Mike Garson

Georgia On My Mind: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles

Celebrating the music of Ray Charles, featuring Take 6, Nnenna Freelon, Clint Holmes, and Kirk Whalum.

Nnenna Freelon: The Clothesline Muse

Blueprint of a Lady

Nnenna Freelon, with Ronald K. Brown and EVIDENCE (dance company) and Romare Bearden, brings to light the most unique celebration and collaboration of Billie Holiday's music, life and legacy.  A story of truiumph and redemption, the lady's music echoes through time in Freelon's interpretations capturing holiday's heart and spirit in body, mind, and music!!


To Ella Fitzgerald and Nelson Riddle

With Mike Berkowitz conducting, Nnenna performs the charts Nelson Riddle wrote for Ella and brings the touching, expressive joy and magic to thiis Symphony Celebration!

Uncommon Standards

From her own hit 'If I Had You' in the feature film "What Women Want" to 'Bridges' by Milton Nascimento, Nnenna Freelon takes the symphony audience on a tour around the world by way of the Great American and through the Great International composers!

More Info About Nnenna Freelon

Concord Music Group
Mike Wilpizeski
68-39 Harrow Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
Phone: 718 459 2117 Fax: 718 459 2133 Email:
Ed Keane Associates
Ed Keane
1140 Saratoga St
Boston, MA 02128
Phone: 617-846-0067 Email:
Record Label
Concord Music Group
Phone: (310) 385-4455 Website

Awards - Nnenna Freelon

2010 Women of Substance Award

Bennett College for Women

2007 Spirit of Hayti Award

For significant contribution to the arts and eduction.

2005 Grammy Award Nominee

Best Jazz Vocal Performance - "Blueprint of a Lady"

2004 Women of Note

Raleigh, NC

2003 Outstanding Artistry

"Airmen of Note", United States Air Force Band

2000 Grammy Award Nominee

Best Jazz Vocal Performance - "Soulcall"

2000 Grammy Award Nominee

Best Jazz Arrangement with Accompanying Vocal - "Soulcall"

2001 Trailblazer Award

International Women in Jazz

2001 California Partner's in Education Award

2001 Walter J. Norflett Artist of the Year

Durham Council for the Arts

2001 Artist Award

National Inventor's Hall of Fame

1998 Grammy Award Nominee

Best Jazz Vocal Performance - "Maiden Voyage"

1996 Lady of Soul Nominee

Soul Train Awards

1999 Honoray Doctor of Music

Elizabeth City State University

1996 Grammy Award Nominee

Best Jazz Vocal Performance - "Shaking Free"

1996 Lady of Soul Nominee

Soul Train Awards

1993 Best Jazz Vocal

Indie Award

1993 Billie Holiday Award

Academie du Jazz (France)

1993 Eubie Black Award

Culturual Crossroads Center

1992 Grammy Award Nominee

Best Jazz Arrangement with Accompanying Vocal - "Nnenna Freelon"