I’m Nnenna Freelon –jazz singer, actress, storyteller, educator, mother, grandmother, sci fi lover, DIYer, healthy southern foodie, curious optimist and cultural celebrant.
I am also recently widowed.
Living in the light of this loss is the absolute biggest BOOM of my entire life. It’s inspired me to launch my first Podcast called Great Grief.
The reverberation of change is everywhere, saturating all of my senses, touching the deepest parts and changing who I am. The late great Sci-fi writer Octavia Butler in her book Parable of the Sower wrote, "All that you touch you Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God Is Change."
Let’s begin with the notion of BOOM as change. Sometimes it’s big BOOM that topples everything in it’s wake. big BOOM that’s so transformational that you’re forever redefined. And sometimes it’s a little boomchakalaka that joyfully moves you toward your goals. But no matter how we calculate the BOOM it’s a shift that you cannot ignore.
When our first child Deen Goodwin was born in 1980, it was a big baddabing badda boom! Phil and I were so excited to become a family. I had all kinds of ideas about motherhood-what kind of mother I was going to be and how we were going to raise our child. We both had great expectations of our family life. Whatever I believed before I became a mother is one thing-how the BOOM of mothering changed me is quite another. I don't think I realized that as my son was making his way into the world (26 hours of labor)
I was also being born anew and that the creative friction of family life and mothering would fundamentally change me and influence the artist within.
Looking in the rear view mirror of my life I can see lots of BOOMS. Here are just a few that come to mind, Booms that ultimately shifted my life’s path.
BOOM 1956 July 28. Chinyere Nnenna Pierce born prematurely on my mother’s birthday in Boston Massachusetts to southern parents. Charles and Frances Pierce (perhaps I was in a hurry?)
BOOM 1963 not sure of the exact date but sang my first solo in church. The first of many singing moments in church. I got so much praise from adults outside my family. (Made a real big impression. People like the way I sing boooom!”
Social unrest, National fight for social justice, Vietnam War, Kent State, Assassinations JFK, MLK, RFK , March on Washington, Poor People’s campaign, southern black voter rights, women’s rights, local politics.
These BOOMS and others shaped my outer and inner worlds as I was coming of age. Both of my parents were actively fighting for social justice and reform. My father ran for School Committee and won in Cambridge, MA.
The redefinition of Black Pride through music with artists like Nina Simone, Buffy St Marie, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Odetta and The Staple Singers. This mighty river of change influenced and shaped the artist woman within. My young self was listening-being touched and changed, charged with possibility—Boom.
BOOM The 70’s all of them
High school and college, I Attended an alternative high school called Palfrey Street School in Watertown, MA. It was here that I experienced the BOOM of independent learning and discovering through the process of curiosity a love of darkroom photography, science fiction, creative writing and philosophy I worked part time at hospitals through HS and while at Simmons College. This BOOM of leaning in toward healing and healthcare took root as I worked as a Candy Striper, Dietary Aide, Medical Records Assistant and Medical Secretary. I learned so much by being the observant one and by offering tiny gifts of song here and there.
BOOM public performances
My first gig was in a local bar playing the 20 minutes break sets between the main act. Too young to sing in an establishment that sold alcohol, my father accompanied me and drank my pay 2 free drinks. I played piano and sang modeling myself as a very young sort of Roberta Flack type.
BOOM I felt this was something I wanted to do for my life for real!
BOOM#2 My parents were not having it. “You’re going to college and getting a real job” Translation what you love to do isn’t a realistic life goal.
Sidebar: My parents became my biggest fans after I dropped my own self-doubt and follow my calling to be a singer.
Of course, if we think about it there are many, many moments that amount to a boom of some sort. These are just a few in my own journey. Sometimes they’re not recognizable at the time as a major life event.
Connecting with someone who would one day prove pivotal, missing a train which caused a delay and thus avoiding a disastrous event or receiving a devastating rejection letter which later turns out to be a huge blessing. All of these could be considered
boom-sign in retrospect.
While we’re in the midst of these experiences though, they can feel overwhelming, difficult or welcomed and joyous.
The point is that BOOMS be coming whether we want them to or not.
It’s the ways in which we ride the Boom that tell the rest of the story. Tools like patience, resilience, hope and curiosity have been a big help to me in a world that’s Boom Boom Booming like a big ol’ bass drum.
2020 has been something. a year of major Chitty Chitty Boom Booms. (change the C to S if you choose)
As I reflect on my own family we have witnessed major life shifts of birth and death, retirement, learning to walk, not going back to school, teaching from home, heath challenges, broken promises, lost wages, professional and personal upheaval, We've run zoom meetings, ridden bikes to end ALS at home, fought on the front lines of the pandemic, searched for non existent toilet paper, been appointed to city council, had church at home, moved, managed work and family without the usual support systems, Worn masks, marched for justice, washed our hands, opened our hearts, smiled with our eyes, unmasked disinformation, planted okra, been published, released new music, created art, entered college, achieved professional certification, learned to use the potty, traveled nationally and internationally through the miracle of the internet, launched Podcasts, adopted puppies, won grants, walked in nature, written letters, Voted, volunteered, held Art openings, created dance moves, learned to cook for one, cared for little people, recorded new music, picked flowers, with gloved hands assisted in birthing and dying and….. cleaned the house.... again and again.
We have lost our keys and tempers, our faith in democracy and each other, We’ve changed our minds, wished for the good old days and dreamt of better ones. Witnessed ignorance and cruelty, felt distant and often times confused. We’ve grown weary of contagion fears surrounding our own and other’s bodies. We've said things we wish we'd not said, laughed, listened, lamented, loved, given and received. And yet, 2021 is on it’s way to us, a precious gift with BOOMS aplenty big and small. Let us be open to it with gratitude and inner knowing that even in BOOM time we gonna’ be all right. Let’s be in touch.