Grammy-nominated mother and son Nnenna and Pierce Freelon will perform in Sioux Falls

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Nnenna and Pierce Freelon are coming to Sioux Falls this week for the Levitt at the Falls Summer Concert Series, the Juneteenth celebrations, and a few additional workshops around the city. Both are Grammy-nominated artists. Nnenna Freelon was nominated six times, and Pierce Freelon once.

Although it is not her first time to perform in Sioux Falls, Nnenna Freelon and her son are the first in something else.

They were the first mother and son nominated individually during the 2022 Grammy awards. Nnenna was nominated for her jazz album Time Traveler, and Pierce was nominated for his album Black to the Future, which explores Afrofuturism.

Nnenna and Pierce Freelon
Nnenna and Pierce Freelon

Earlier music publications noted both were imbued with grieving and loss over husband and father, architect Phil Freelon. Nnenna Freelon said her husband was her “biggest cheerleader.”

Despite working in different genres, with Pierce Freelon starting as a hip-hop artist and Nnenna being a jazz artist, they released their first joint album “Ancestars” in May 2023, and they are going to show it in Sioux Falls along with other compositions.

Pierce Freelon said parenthood is what made his musical interests shift from solely hip-hop to children’s and family songs about life and loss, transformation, and healing, as well as about mundane things, such as getting children to brush their teeth and buckle their seats in the car or playing with his daughter.

“My kids are probably my biggest inspiration as a children's musician specifically,” Pierce Freelon said.

Nnenna and Pierce Freelon profile
Nnenna and Pierce Freelon profile

Likewise, he and his brother and sister were the biggest inspiration for his mother. In turn, she mentored Pierce, her youngest son, and taught him a career in music was possible.

Nnenna Freelon said Pierce Freelon grew up under theater seats. Although all three of her children were exposed to music from an early age, it was Pierce who as a young person expressed a great interest in music and a real talent.

Nnenna Freelon said when he grew up, they had not been recording together for a long time, but they participated as guests in each other's projects.

“Our most recent CD, 'Ancestars' is our first time that we have actually done an entire project together,” Nnenna Freelon said.

She said her own musical journey has not been typical. She first graduated with a degree in health administration. Nnenna Freelon said although she loved music since she was a child, she did not feel that was a stable career that she could count on.

“I decided to get a degree and do something that I could make a living and support myself with,” Nnenna Freelon said.

It was not before she was in her 30s, that she finally started to accept she was put on this planet to be a singer. She was not happy in other jobs. When she started her musical career, she already had three children. Her career also began in the small place of Durham, North Carolina, another atypical thing.

However, Nnenna Freelon said even in small places, if you are curious, you can find resources to develop your talent. She said she was lucky to get several local mentors, who saw she had a talent and took her under their wing.

Nnenna and Pirce Freelon seem to be finding inspiration in each other's art
Nnenna and Pirce Freelon seem to be finding inspiration in each other's art

As she grew as an artist, she reached outside of her small community to people like jazz musician and educator Ellis Marsalis, who as Nnenna Freelon said, also saw something in her “to nurture and develop.”

“Some of it is hard work. Some of it is the right place at the right time. I’d say 90% of it is believing in yourself and just keeping on, keeping your mind on what you want to do, and why you are doing it,” Nnenna Freelon said. “So far, it’s been a lovely journey.”

Nnenna Freelon's Levitt at the Falls performance starts at 7 p.m. Friday.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Grammy-nominated artists will perform at the Levitt this weekend