04/05/04 — Wayne Community hosts concert by Nnenna Freelon

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Wayne Community hosts concert by Nnenna Freelon

By Don McLoud
Published in News on April 5, 2004 1:57 PM

Five musicians walked to their instruments on the Wayne Community College stage Saturday night. A sixth member soon followed, empty-handed at the microphone. Her instrument became apparent the moment she opened her mouth.

Jazz singer Nnenna Freelon's voice poured like honey over the crowd as she took them on a musical journey from the blues to Broadway. It was her first return to the Goldsboro campus since being a visiting artist 12 years ago.

"I have so many warm memories of my time here," she told the audience. "The road has taken me far, far from here, but the memories, the warm memories, are always right here."

Celebrating 20 years in the entertainment business, 10 as a recording artist, Ms. Freelon lives in Durham, but her talent has taken her to such places as Japan, Germany, Italy and Norway.

"What a wonderful journey it's been," she said. "But in order to really celebrate this journey in a different way, I have to go back to Union Baptist Church where I first opened my mouth to sing the music that gave my heart wings."

She paid tribute to that time with the song, "There is a Balm in Gilead," and then she recalled a popular song that came out in the 1970s, admitting she was in love with an older man who ignored her. "Of course, he was in the fifth grade," she said. "But that's no excuse."

She sang "Ma Cherie Amour" and said she had it on good authority that the young gentleman was now quite sorry he'd missed his opportunity.

She tried to involve the audience in the show, inviting the men to join her first on "I Feel Pretty." Silence.

"Come on!" she said. "I thought we were more progressive here in Goldsboro."

She need not have worried. The crowd came to hear her and welcomed her back warmly with a standing ovation at the end of the concert.

She said it had been a delight to return "home."

"It's wonderful to be in the bosom of a place where people know you," she said.

Sam Hunter, chairman of the college's foundation, which sponsored the event, said, "You are welcome back here any time."

Jack Kannan, executive director of the foundation, announced that an endowment has been established in Ms. Freelon's honor for other students to study music at the school.

Martin Lancaster, president of the N.C. Community College System, said Ms. Freelon's appearance made everyone proud of the now-extinct visiting artist program. "It was special to be here to remember, to celebrate, and to regret the loss of the visiting artist program in North Carolina," he said. "In the 15 years it existed, more than 400 very fine artists had an opportunity to share their great art with audiences all across the state. Many went on to outstanding careers.

"As we see the work of these artists, it makes you regret all the more the loss of the visiting artist program during the recession of the early 1990s."

At the conclusion of the concert, the audience entered an atrium that had been transformed to create the look of New Orleans. A saxophonist played on the stairwell during the coffee and dessert reception, and Ms. Freelon mixed with the concert-goers and signed autographs.