NICOLE C MULLEN is a black singer with a huge white CCM following. She also keeps running into journalist George Luke.
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"There's a lot of truth to the black-white issue; it's sad, but true. But little by little, we're starting to see bridges go up. I hope that I'm one of the bridge-builders, and that people will eventually be able to go to the other side, or even back and forth. In the past, it has been pretty much that black gospel is for blacks and CCM is for whites. But we're starting to see the doors open, to where more people of colour are allowed to be in CCM; are being validated in what they do. And little by little, you're having the Martha Munizzis coming and being accepted in the black gospel world - 'cos she can sing!
"Little by little, those doors are opening. I've been invited a couple of times to Expolit (the Latin Christian music convention, held in Miami); I speak a little Spanish, and we had a great response. I just think it takes one person at a time. While that one person is there - whether it's me or someone else - part of our job is to shed knowledge on who we are, and who we represent to other people, in a positive way. Knowledge disperses ignorance, and eventually you can gain wisdom from it."
Racial reconciliation looms large in Nicole's music and is one of those areas in which art and life overlap for the singer. Her song "Black, White, Tan" (from her self-titled album) is the story of her mixed marriage to producer David Mullen. Nicole and David first met during her Frontline days, when she was recommended to work with him on a recording project. According to Nicole, "We fought that very first week, because he didn't want to listen to me tell him what to do." Nevertheless, David was impressed enough by Nicole to help her land a job as a backing singer on Amy Grant's 1991 Baby, Baby Tour. The working relationship continued, with Nicole singing for acts such as Michael W Smith and The Newsboys - not to mention work as the voice of Larry Boy on Veggie Tales and an animated cat in Carman's 'Yo Kids' videos. She and David also started co-writing songs.and somewhere along the line, the two of them became an item.
"When we were dating, people would go, 'Okay you guys, so are you on this week or off this week?'" Nicole recalled. "We were always, 'Love him, hate him, love him, hate him.' So we finally got to a point where we said, 'Okay, we're too old for this game. Either we are or we aren't.' So it was like, 'Okay, we are.'" They married three years after they met, and now live in Franklin, Tennessee with their three children.
"It can be spicy at times, I must admit," said Nicole. "You can't go home from the studio and say, 'My producer really got on my nerves today.' You're not allowed to do that, because your producer's your husband! But on the other hand, when you bring up the day's events, you don't have to go into a lot of details, because a lot of it he already knows. It's good; it's a double-edged sword. Iron sharpens iron - and at times, sparks will fly! But at the end of the day, we're both, I think, the better off for it. My husband's very talented in what he does, and I think I'm the better for it because of him."
Anyone who can create a music genre called "funkabilly" must have really eclectic tastes.and Nicole does admit to listening to "all sorts of stuff." "At the moment I'm listening a lot to a new act called Cayerio, who happens to be my choreographer's husband," she said. "Who else do I listen to? It all depends on what mood I'm in. I listen to Tommy Sims; I can listen to old Andrae Crouch stuff, then sometimes to newer stuff, from mainstream to whatever. If it's good music and a good song, I like it - whether it's 'I hope you dance' or 'fathers, be good to your daughters'. If it's good, I like it; if it's dumping trash into my head, I don't - regardless of the beat.
"I like a lot of different things, but I actually read more books than I listen to music. I love Brock & Bodie Thoene - they're excellent writers! And I'll read anything by Francine Rivers. Right now, I'm reading a book called A Rift In Time, by Michael Philips. I haven't read any of his books in the past, but my husband recommended this one. At the same time, I'm also reading a book on apologetics from a ministry in Ohio.and, of course, the Bible; that goes without saying. When I'm not singing, I'm at home. I like being at home. I live on a farm; I have dogs, horses and kids. They keep me very busy, and I enjoy it. Singing isn't all-consuming for me; it's my part-time job. Being a wife and mother is my full-time job."
Singing actually comes a lot further down on Nicole's list of priorities. After her duties as wife and mother come the various causes she supports and does advocacy work for, such as her Baby Girls' Club.
"The Baby Girls' Club consists of 40 to 45 girls between five and 17 years of age," Nicole explained. "Once a week, we get together; we dance, we sing, we sew, we do projects, we do homework, we pray, we talk, we eat, and just kind of love on each other; get to know each other and walk through life together. We're seeing some of these girls, who last year were getting Ds and Fs in school, now getting As, Bs and Cs. We're seeing them succeed; we're seeing girls who didn't know Christ come to him and have their lives change, and them having hopes and dreams for the future, which they didn't have before."
Another cause close to Nicole's heart is her work with International Needs Network Ghana to work at freeing Trokosi slaves. Trokosi are young girls kept as slaves by fetish priests; a practise which has long been outlawed in Ghana and some other west African countries, but nevertheless still goes on. Nicole explained: "The priests have convinced some of the people that their families are cursed by a sinful past and that the only way to atone for the crime is to give away their virgin daughters - sometimes at just five or seven years of age - to them. They put the girls to work as slaves and often force them into subservient sex. Any children the slaves produce are automatically classified as the priests' property. We in America are outraged at the thought of slavery in our country, but now in our generation we have a chance to free other slaves. International Needs Network Ghana is giving these slaves freedom. They're teaching them new trades, they're teaching them how to sew, how to do their hair, how to economically provide for themselves and their families. They're putting them through school, working them back into society. Some of these women are in their 50s and they've not known anything but slavery all their lives."
And the future? "I would love to continue on an even greater level, to take the good news of the Gospel in song to the world - not just to Christians, but to everybody. And I would love to take the Baby Girls' Club and maybe multiply it all over the world. We're still working out some kinks here and there, but for the most part I'd like to do that.and of course, whatever else it is that God would call me to do. I want to be in his will; I want to be where he wants me to be, because that's where I'll be most effective."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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