"I'm in the company of many Black women and other women who stand on the shoulders of Blackness and resistance and social justice and change, and all of the folds in between that. I really don't have to explain myself."
— Nnenna Freelon on her new partnership with Scalawag.
Unlike other podcasts on grief, Great Grief by Grammy-nominated vocalist Nnenna Freelon doesn't give you a blueprint for how to get over it. Instead, she offers her own experiences as a wife, a sister, a Black woman, and a powerful jazz artist to help you get into it.
You won't find the traditional interview format here. It's Nnenna's limitless and expressive engagement with grief that we welcome to Scalawag and that will live alongside our collection of grief & other loves essays, beginning September 13.
"Words take you only so far, music is—as poetry is—a different kind of container for grief. […] You can read the lyrics to Chaka Khan's 'Through The Fire.' Okay, but let Chaka sing that. You be like on the floor."
The partnership will release three four-episode series, one for each change in the seasons. Through each, Nnenna interweaves griefscapes of songs and stories.
The first season, titled Great Grief: Wailing Women, focuses on the intimate beauty and irreparable losses we know as Black women, with episodes touching on the shock of widowhood, the bittersweet of sisterhood, and the love-hate journeys many of us have with our hair.
Listen to a 30-second clip:
"Here, here is grief. Transformational, becoming artifact of not only the personal, but the universal. Some call it sorrow-song, and some negro spiritual. Genius-flow is how I see it: Black genius-flow, given freely to the world."
The podcast first debuted on WUNC public radio in 2021, following the deaths of Nnenna's husband, Philip, and her younger sister Debbie. Great Grief finds a natural home at Scalawag this September, where it has evolved to include a live listening experience: part fireside chat, part conjure-sation.
The beauty in bringing the podcast to Scalawag is that here, Great Grief can more deeply develop into a space where our griefs and other loves as Black women are fully acknowledged, indulged, nourished, and affirmed.
"I firmly believe when we gather as Black women to create something, we think we're doing a subset of the real work when the opposite is true. We are the root upon which everything else stands. So it behooves us to gather, to get our stories and put them out there."
Now in conversation with a community of powerful Black writers, organizers, and creatives focused on liberation both personally and politically, folks who join the Great Grief community can laugh, cut up, cry, and lay their burdens down.
That's always what happens in my many talks with Nnenna. Warm, capacious, a bit creatively mischievous—I never know where the conversation might lead, but always know it travels with love.
"So bring your curiosity as well as your profound losses," and let Nnenna Freelon's Great Grief surround you with stories that minister and sounds that unlock love, joy, contemplation, and yes, grief.
more from grief & other loves
No woman makes it through life without a sister. Through faith, family, and struggle, we inhabit a deep solidarity that allows us to hold one another close, even at the very end. Nnenna Freelon walks us through her journey of losing her sister, Debbie.
Photographer Justin Hardiman, a collaborator with Jasmine Williams and Sarah Jené's 'How We Get Over: We Grow On' project at the Mississippi Museum of Art, shares stunning portraits and excerpts from his audio-visual project, 'The Color of Grief.'
Grief is a woman with plenty to say. In the first episode of Great Grief, Nnenna Freelon asks us to consider what happens if we stop running from our grief, sit down, and listen to her for a change. Listen and read along with the podcast transcript.