Nnenna Freelon, was born Chinyere Nnenna Pierce in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was raised, to Charles and Frances Pierce. As a young woman, she sang extensively in her community and the Union Baptist Church and at St. Paul AME. She has a brother Melvin and a sister named Debbie. Nnenna graduated from Simmons College in Boston, with a degree in health care administration. For a while she worked for the Durham County Hospital Corporation, Durham, North Carolina. From the Kennedy Center interview with Nnenna:
- "I started singing in the church, like so many others. . . ." She suggests that her influences included several "not famous people," as well as such familiar names as Nina Simone and Billy Eckstine, artists whose records her parents played at home. "Its important to expose your children to a wide musical environment," she says, grateful that her parents did just that. Nnenna followed her grandmother's sage advice regarding those singing aspirations. "I did something that my grandmother told me: 'bloom where you're planted’, "don't get on a bus and go to New York or L.A., sing where you are."
In Maiden Voyage (1998), she leaves behind standard and comfortable conventions and releases an inner spirit that allows her to creatively soar to a higher dimension. Watch out! When a woman reaches this point there's no telling what will come next. Freelon's seventh album is Tales of Wonder (2002), covers hit songs written and/or recorded by Stevie Wonder. She considers him one of the greatest artists of our time and describes how his music easily became her music, as it touched her life throughout the years. "A lot of Stevie Wonder's music is on the level of many other unique artists like Duke Ellington, like Thelonious Monk. When you hear Stevie, you know that's who it is. I put him in a genius class, he's fabulous." On her Grammy-nominated release,Blueprint of a Lady: Sketches of Billie Holiday (2005), which comes highly recommended, Freelon pays tribute to the quintessential jazz vocalist Billie Holiday in the best possible way—without imitation and putting her own interpretations on material written by or associated with Lady Day. Her band, adjusted to fit the mood of each song, skillfully complements her at every turn. With Freelon is a group of veteran jazz artists who give her album a welcome presence. Tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis, trumpeter Christian Scott, and flutist Mary Fettig add stellar musical partnerships to the program. Freelon's long-term quartet of Brandon McCune, Wayne Bachelor, Kinah Boto, and Beverly Botsford provide cohesive accompaniment that serves as an intuitive accompaniment for her vocal offerings.
Nnenna Freelon will tour with the Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary Band on a 54-date, 10-week tour of the United States starting January 8, 2008. The band features trumpeter Terence Blanchard, pianist Benny Green, saxophonist James Moody, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott.