Nnenna Freelon Biography

Nnenna Chinyere Freelon, 28 July 1954, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Although Freelon had displayed an interest in singing from an early age, she first graduated from Simmons College, then had a career in social services in Durham, North Carolina. She also raised three children before being encouraged to consider a career in music. She studied with Yusef Lateef, developing her singing through listening to horn players. For several years she had a regular working band with Bill Anschell (piano), John Brown (bass) and Woody Williams (drums). Her breakthrough followed an informal session at the start of the 90s in which she sat in with Ellis Marsalis. Her recording debut came in 1992 and attracted some attention although there were some critical misgivings over perceived similarities to Sarah Vaughan’s singing style. Her second album was more favourably received and by her third even the most recalcitrant observers were forced to admit that hers was an exceptional talent that had at last found its own voice.

For her repertoire, Freelon’s draws not only upon jazz but also pop and folk origins, transmuting even the latter forms into her own distinctive conception of jazz. A change of labels in early 1996 found Freelon making a much more personal mark than before and her second Concord Jazz set, 1998’s Maiden Voyage, displayed her interest in the role of women in music and in society in general. In 2000, Freelon made her acting debut in What Women Want and released her first self-produced set, Soulcall. Tales Of Wonder in 2002 was her own tribute to the songs of one of her idols, Stevie Wonder. Some indication of the regard in which she is held in the jazz community can be gained from the musicians who have joined her for gigs and recording sessions. Among these artists are Mike Abene, Kenny Barron, Joe Beck, Herbie Hancock, Christian McBride, Bob Mintzer, Lewis Nash, and Kirk Whalum. Freelon’s voice is rich in emotional qualities, and she employs a full-bodied sound. Nevertheless, when the music demands, she ably finds a measure cool yet sensual detachment that is especially persuasive on ballads.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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