By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
She made a promise to her grandfather on his deathbed. You know how those deathbed promises are — you’re pretty much compelled to keep them — especially if the promise is to someone you love.
And love him she still does, and sings it out in a voice that is at once familiar yet fresh, new and full of promise. Called the “new face of country music” by some music journalists, Adrianna Freeman is one of the few African American female singers in country music.
When she was just a tiny slip of a child, her grandparents figured out that she was a draw for their fruit stand. Sharecroppers, they were dependent on the sale of that produce to feed their family.
“They put me in a yellow dress, with little yellow ribbons in my hair, stood me in front of their fruit stand in Tallahassee, Florida, and had me sing, ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’ for tips.” It didn't hurt that sales were boosted in the bargain.
Her grandfather, Walter Freeman, always wanted to sing, but he never made it. Her father, “Big Ed” Freeman, did sing some, but that was before he had to give up the stage and work a nine-to-five job to support his family. “My dad came up singing,” explained Freeman. “That love of country music came to him from my grandparents.”
When the little girl in the yellow ribbons attracted so much attention, the proverbial light bulb came on over Big Ed’s head. “My dad made sure that I sang in every honky tonk and night club in South Georgia and North Florida,” laughed Freeman. “He always said ‘Little girl, we’ll either come out of here singing or fighting, let’s come out singing!’”
There were some rough gigs, many behind chicken wire to prevent things being thrown at the entertainers by unruly patrons.
“My dad is just an old country boy from Montgomery,” Freeman went on.
“He loves Hank,” her mom, Theresa, added. “The only radio stations we could get back then played country, so that’s what we listened to.”
In 2002, as Walter Freeman was dying, he told his son, “Our time has passed — but she can do it.”
And she did.
At 18 she ventured out into the wide world, landing in the capital of country — Nashville, Tennessee. “I bombed,” she said emphatically.
But that promise haunted her, so back she went at the age of 21, after earning a degree in accounting as a backup plan.
This time, she happened to be in the right place at the right time. Freeman was working in a studio one day when a guy came in and mentioned that a music producer had heard her demo and would like to speak to her. She took note of the request, but was really busy and it slipped her mind. Later, Big Ed asked if she had ever spoken to that music producer. When she admitted that she hadn’t, Big Ed asked his name. “Teddy Gentry,” Adrianna answered, unconcerned. “Girl, you get yourself over there and talk to him! That guy is a member of Alabama!”
She didn’t have to be told twice. That meeting would change Freeman’s life.
“When I walked into the studio, Teddy was sitting Indian-style on the floor,” Freeman recalled. “He looked up at me, smiled, and said ‘I hear you want to be a country music star’.”
And so a star was born. Well, technically it wasn’t quite that easy, there was a lot of hard work ahead, but it was sure easier than most aspiring country music rookies even dream of.
Gentry was pulling together a compilation of several young, unsigned singers for a CD he was working on for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. The CD, called “Teddy Gentry’s Best New Nashville” was also a contest. Listeners would vote on which artist on the CD that they liked best.
She and Gentry worked on some of the songs together. The one that made the final cut was called, “Run, Baby, Run” about a girl who has big dreams of running away to Nashville to be a country singer. Sort of prophetic, huh?
Freeman won the people’s choice hands down.
She recently made a video for her latest song, “Just A Girl” which was noticed by the producers of The 700 Club. The popular television show is expected to air the segment sometime in July.
Her first CD, called “Either You Do Or You Don’t” was released in Europe to rave reviews. One of the cuts that she wrote with Gentry, called “Will Not Be Your Tennessee” went straight to the Top 20 in Australia.
Freeman was scheduled to be interviewed for Cullman radio station, WKUL, recently, but unfortunately, local disc jockey/music director, Grant Smith, passed away and the interview had to be cancelled.
In a fast-paced and totally unexpected turn of events, her publicist arranged for her to make a quick stop in Moulton for this interview. It was truly a chance encounter — one of those “God things” you hear of sometimes.
We met at a local restaurant for the interview, but her traveling companions/guitarists and band members, Tyler Reese and Mark Hawkins, had an idea — they just strolled among the diners and put on an impromptu show, much to the surprise and delight of the staff and their guests.
Freeman introduced herself and explained that she was going to sing them a little song. There were pleasantly surprised by the familiar strains of “There He Goes.”
“It made chills go over me,” said one waitress. Several autographs later, Freeman sat down and ate while telling her story. Her plans include doing a USO tour for the troops in Afghanistan.
“Just A Girl” has been chosen as the official National Network for Youth (NN4Y) theme song. “I was moved to tears when I heard that song,” she said softly. “I have a deep love for children and my purpose in cutting it was a prayer that the Lord would use it to help save even one child. Now that the song has been chosen as the official NN4Y theme song, maybe it won’t just be one child, but millions,” she said, flashing a brilliant smile.
The NN4Y is an organization dedicated to prevention of the exploitation of runaways and abuse in children. Author and child abuse advocate, Karen Spears Zacharias describes the video as “tragic and wonderful.” She also suggested that someone send it to Oprah. And that might just be in Freeman's future — someone sure has been smilin' down on her — maybe that deathbed promise is being fulfilled in more ways than one...
You can find out more about Freeman on Facebook, YouTube, or www.nn4youth.org.