Mullen, Nicole C. 1967–
Nicole C. Mullen 1967–
Contemporary Christian singer, songwriter
Soft, stale Oreo cookies, chick flicks, and Steve Madden shoes—these are some of singer-songwriter Nicole C. Mullen’s favorite things. But what she lives for and sings about is her strong Christian faith. Her lyrics are cries from the heart, expressed to promote healing in a painful world. Believing that Christianity is the medicine and cure for the pain, Mullen’s mission is to use the recording studio and the stage to bring God’s message to American society. On her Web site, Mullen explained her mission this way: “Music is a great part of my life—not my whole life. When all is said and done, I’m not the songwriter—[God] is. He is the music, the symphony, the melody, the lyrics, He is everything.”
Born Aileen Nicole Coleman on January 3, 1967, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Mullen was raised in a family that was both religious and musical. Her mother—who “prayed a lot,” as Mullen has frequently reported in interviews—had an enduring influence on her spirituality, as did her extended family. Mullen’s grandfathers on both sides were Pentecostal ministers. Her father, Napoleon Coleman, Jr., who had sacrificed a career in music to fulfill the obligations of raising five children, stirred her musical sensibilities. On her Web site, Mullen also recognized her grandmother’s lasting impression. She taught Mullen as a child that singing is more than using a voice; it also requires using one’s body and presence to communicate. “I feel that, before I am a singer or songwriter, I am first a communicator,” Mullen acknowledged. At an early age, Mullen felt called to blend her love for God with her love for music. She told the Jamsline Web site: “I always knew that if doing music was the Lord’s will for me, then I wouldn’t have to strive for it.”
Mullen’s upbringing stressed humility, a trait that is central to her faith. “I have no right to be doing what I’m doing with my music ministry,” she told Today’s Christian Woman writer Camerin Courtney. “But God, in his grace and mercy, took a skinny, bonykneed girl who had no hope of doing anything without him and said, ’I have a plan for this one.’ And he does that for each of us.” Mullen views her spiritual experience as compatible with how the God of the Bible moves. She explained to Erin Curry of Lifeway Christian
At a Glance…
Born Aileen Nicole Coleman on January 3, 1967, in Cincinnati, OH; married David Mullen, 1993; children: Jasmine, Maxwell, Josiah. Education: Studied voice, Dallas Bible College. Religion: Christian.
Career: Living Praise gospel group, background singer, 1984; Frontline Records, recording artist, 1991-92; toured as background singer with Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Newsboys, 1992-94; Word Records, recording artists, 2000-.
Awards: Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, Song of the Year, for “On My Knees/’ 1998; Dove Awards, Songwriter of the Year, Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year, and Song of the Year, 2001; Dove Awards, Female Vocalist of the Year, Short Form Music Video of the Year, 2002.
Addresses: Agent— Word Entertainment, 25 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203. Web— www.nicolecmullen.com
Resources that God chooses “ordinary people” for great works. “God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called.”
After a stint at Dallas Bible College to study voice, Mullen began touring with the group Living Praise. Soon she landed gigs as a background singer. This led her to a recording contract with Frontline Records. She released her first album, Don’t Let Me Go, in 1991 and a second, Wish Me Love, in 1992. By this time, she had met her future husband, David Mullen, with whom she co-wrote several songs. Though the title tracks of both albums became hits on Christian Contemporary radio, Mullen became dissatisfied with Frontline and decided to venture into new projects.
In the mid-1990s Mullen sang backup for top Christian Contemporary artists such as Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, and the Newsboys, and she lent her voice for the television series’ Yo! Kids’s “Serena the Cat” and Veggie Tales’ “Larry Boy Theme Song.” Mullen also appeared in an episode of The Visual Bible for Kids entitled “The Story You Can Believe In.” One of her songs—“On My Knees,” co-written with David Mullen and Michael Oches and performed by Jaci Velasquez—became a huge Christian Contemporary hit, attracting Dove’s award for Song of the Year in 1998.
Mullen signed with Word Records to release her highly acclaimed self-titled album in 2000. Recognized for its unique blend of funk, R&B, pop, and black gospel—what Mullen categorized as “funkabilly”—the album featured several Christian Contemporary hits, including “Shooby,” her musical Christian manifesto, and “Homemade,” a memoir of Mullen’s childhood experience of being ridiculed by other children for wearing homemade clothing. “Freedom” links a slave’s will to be freed to humanity’s yearning for God. “I wanted to say,” Mullen told James Lloyd of the Dayton Daily News, “’We all need freedom, and freedom comes on the inside first, before it ever gets to the outside.’”
Lou Carlozo of CCM Magazine praised Mullen for her ability to write lyrics as poetically rich as those by Lauryn Hill, and he saluted her as “a multidimensional artist.” “At a time when Christian pop seems especially formulaic,” he wrote, “Mullen brings to the table a fresh musical approach (country-blues inflected pop) and a flair for writing about time-honored truths in inventive ways.” The Christian ballad “Redeemer,” a huge hit, which she had penned with the Biblical character of Job in mind, distinguished her as the first African-American woman to be awarded Dove’s Song of the Year Award in 2001. She was also awarded Dove’s 2001 Songwriter of the Year prize.
Though she was raised in a city known for its racial tension, Mullen’s life is a testament to bridging America’s racial divide. In 1993 she married her “best buddy,” the white songwriter David Mullen. In 1994, Mullen gave birth to their daughter, Jasmine. After pregnancy complications, including two miscarriages, Mullen and her husband adopted a black son, Max, who was born in 1998. And on February 10, 2003, Mullen gave birth to their third child, Josiah. In celebration of the range of her loved ones’ skin color, Mullen recorded “Black, White, Tan” for her 2000 self-titled album. Mullen is proud that her and her husband’s families have always gotten along well. “Our relationship was a non-issue for our immediate family,” Mullen told Courtney.
“Black Light,” from her 2001 release, Talk About It, recognizes that it was cooperation between blacks and whites that won victories for the civil rights movement. Remarking on her visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, Alabama, Mullen told Courtney, “I’d always taken for granted that we African Americans were alone during Civil Rights marches. I was surprised to see photographs of white Americans who marched alongside us. I thought, I have to write about this part of the story, too.” “I feel called to be a bridge builder,” she continued, “to help others celebrate our differences and our sameness. The color of your skin doesn’t make you good or bad. It’s the condition of your heart.” Talk About It’s “Black Light” and other tracks, such as “Baby Girl” and “Call on Jesus,” attracted enough play and fans to win her the 2002 Dove Award for Female vocalist of the year.
Mullen’s 2002 release, Christmas in Black and White, recorded with her family, did not refer to racial blending but rather to the over-commercialization of Christmas. In a biography on the Word Records Web site, Mullen explained the motivation for the album this way: “The truth of the matter is that God became a man through a virgin girl and this God became like us… Later he died and rose again to save the ones he had been a part of. This is the foundation upon which our family approaches Christmas, so I wanted to celebrate that fact by making it the whole premise upon which the record is built. This song is saying, ’Here are the facts. It’s right here in black and white.’”
In 2003, Mullen delivered Live from Cincinnati: Bringin’ It Home, recorded live in her hometown to a cheering audience that included her family and childhood friends. Her daughter Jasmine joined her on stage. So did the New Life Temple Choir from her childhood church. Mullen’s childhood mentor, Cecilia, also made a stage appearance. “Cecilia was everything I wanted to be,” Mullen reported on her Web site. “She really held the power over me when I was little to make or break me.” Her childhood memories of Cecilia motivated Mullen to devote herself to befriending and mentoring girls.
Mullen told Curry that each Wednesday she meets with a group of girls, the Baby Girls Club, at New Hope Academy in Franklin, Tennessee. The club’s motto is drawn from the Bible’s 1 Timothy 4:12: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” Twenty to fifty girls between the ages of five to seventeen join Mullen for fellowship, singing, dancing, eating, and craftmaking. “We have a talent show almost every week,” Mullen explained, “where if they have a talent like singing or poetry, we give them a little time to share.” Her protégés also serve as Mullen’s support on stage. Several of them tour and perform with her as backup dancers in routines choreographed by Mullen. “We try hard to make our dance moves athletic and skillful, not sensual,” Mullen reported to Courtney.
Mullen and her husband have dedicated themselves to their church and their faith, serving as youth leaders in their local church and participating as tutors to innercity children. After returning from a trip to Kenya and Uganda with the Christian relief organization Compassion International, Mullen, in her interview with Curry, described the poor as spiritually blessed in that they can witness first-hand “the hand of God.” “I saw that we really are a part of the upside-down kingdom,” she said, “where the rich are poor and the poor are rich.” Her music, Mullen said, can only be enriched by contact with people who experience God’s hand close up. For Mullen, proper living requires seeing life through a Christian lens, experiencing it with a gentle heart, and responding to it with the hands of a servant. “Live it. Talk it. Christ is real,” Mullen said in her Jamsline interview. “Without Him I would have nothing to sing about.”
(With David Mullen and Michael Oches) Songwriter, “On My Knees,” performed by Jaci Velasquez on Heavenly Place, Myrrh, 1996.
“I See You in His Eyes,” Let’s Roll: Together in Unity, Faith, and Hope, TMB Records, 2002.
Don’t Let Me Go, Frontline, 1991.
Wish Me Love, Frontline, 1992.
Nicole C. Mullen (includes “Black, White, Tan,” “Freedom,” “Homemade,” “Redeemer,” and “Shooby”), 2000.
Talk About It (includes “Baby Girl,” “Black Light,” and “Call on Jesus”), Word, 2001.
Following His Hand: A Ten Year Journey, KMG, 2001.
Christmas in Black and White, Word, 2002.
Live from Cincinnati: Bringin It Home, Word, 2003.
Billboard, April 15, 2000; May 20, 2000, p. 65.
Christianity Today, November 12, 2001, p. 104.
Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, June 15, 2000, p. 1C.
Today’s Christian Woman, March-April 2002, p. 44.
“Nicole C. Mullen,” CCM Magazine, www.ccmmagazine.com/features/498.aspx (May 14, 2004).
“Nicole C. Mullen,” Christianity Today, www.christianitytoday.com/music/artists/nicolecmullen.html (May 14, 2004).
“Nicole C. Mullen,” Jamsline, www.jamsline.com/b_mullen.htm (May 14, 2004).
“Nicole C. Mullen Sees God’s Kingdom as Place for Ordinary People,” Lifeway Christian Resources, www.lifeway.com/lwc/lwc_cda_article/0,1643,A%253D156989%2526X%253D1%2526M%253D50088,00.html (May 14, 2004).
“Nicole C. Mullen,” Word Records, www.wordrecords.com (May 14, 2004).
Official Web site, Nicole C. Mullen, www.nicolecmullen.com (May 14, 2004).
Mullen, Nicole C.
Singer-songwriter Nicole C. Mullen has established herself as a front-rank Contemporary Christian artist thanks to her rootsy, groove-driven sound and positive, gospel-inspired message. Drawing upon the struggles in her own life, she has challenged her audience to examine issues of racial division within the Christian community. Balancing her funkier tunes have been such soaring worship songs such as “Redeemer,” which earned her the Gospel Music Association’s coveted Dove Award. Off stage, Mullen has worked as a mentor and advocate for young people through various programs and organizations.
A Cincinnati native, Mullen was born Nicole Coleman in 1967. Gospel music came naturally to her—her parents were active in their local church and grandparents on both sides of her family were Pentecostal preachers. Mullen became a committed Christian at age eight and took inspiration from such gospel greats as Andrae Crouch and the Winans. As her singing talents became evident, she resolved to use them in the service of her faith. “I wasn’t the most beautiful,” Mullen told CCM’s Gregory Rumburg in a May of 2000 interview. “I knew I wasn’t the most popular. But I remember sitting there thinking that I may not be these things, but God has a plan for my life . I knew that God had put something in my heart and He was going to use me. That hope kept me going.”
By her late teens, Mullen was enrolled at a Dallas bible college while continuing to develop her vocal abilities. While a student, she toured with the singing group Living Praise. She came to the notice of Christian music producer Tim Miner, who utilized her talents as a background singer on his recording projects. By the late 1980s, Miner had helped her land a recording contract with California-based Frontline Records. Recording under the name Nicole, she released her debut album Don’t Let Me Go in 1991. A year later came a second Frontline album, Wish Me Love, featuring songs co-written by Mullen with Christian singer/songwriter David Mullen. A number of her singles for Frontline—including “Don’t Let Me Go,” “Wish Me Love,” “Show Me,” and “Miracles”—became Christian radio hits. Still, Mullen found her time with the label to be disappointing overall. “I didn’t really feel like an artist,” Mullen told CCM’s Rumburg. “I felt like I was filling a position [on the label roster].”
After two albums, Mullen parted company with Frontline and withdrew from the spotlight as an artist. She kept busy, though, as a touring background singer and choreographer with such Christian music notables as Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith; her participation in the Newsboys’ 1993-94 “Not Ashamed” tour was particularly well received. After marrying David Mullen in 1993, she relocated to the Nashville, Tennessee, area and became part of the Christian music community
For the Record…
Born Nicole Coleman in 1967 in Cincinnati, OH; married David Mullen (a musician); children: Max and Jasmine.
Began as singer with Living Praise, 1984; signed with Frontline Records, released two albums and various singles, 1991-93; toured as background singer with Newsboys, 1993-94; signed with Word Records, released CD Nicole C. Mullen, 2000; released Talk about It, 2001; released Christmas in Black and White, 2002.
Awards: Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, Song of the Year, 1998, Songwriter of the Year, Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year, Song of the Year, 2001.
Addresses: Record company—Word Entertainment, 25 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203. Website—Nicole C. Mullen Official Website: http://www.nicolecmullen.com.
there. Her credits during the 1990s include contributing lead vocals to the “Larry Boy Theme Song,” a tune from the highly popular VeggieTales children’s animated video series. She also took on vocal acting roles for the Christian video series You! Kids and The Visual Bible for Kids. As a songwriter, she reestablished herself by composing Jaci Velasquez’s “On My Knees,” which won a Dove Award for Song of the Year in 1998.
Over time, Mullen honed her sound into a distinctive mix of R&B, hip-hop, folk, and rock elements, a blend she called “funkabilly.” Her songwriting began to take an explicitly autobiographical turn, portraying her Cincinnati childhood in bittersweet tones. After some seven years away from album-making, she signed with Word Records and released Nicole C. Mullen in April of 2000. Co-produced by David Mullen and Justin Nie-bank, the album has a playful, acoustic guitar-based feel that recalls the Staple Singers and other classic gospel/pop artists. The album’s songs deal with a range of issues from a Christian perspective, including gang violence (“Granny’s Angel”) and urban poverty (“Blowin’ Kisses”). One track in particular—“Homemade”—touches upon Mullen’s own humble beginnings with honesty and pathos. “Black, White, Tan” offers a loving tribute to her own racially blended family.
Nicole C. Mullen might’ve reached a limited audience if its fervent gospel/pop aria “Redeemer” hadn’t become a major hit on Christian radio. Inspired in part by the biblical story of Job, “Redeemer” displays Mullen’s full-throated vocal powers to full advantage, inviting comparisons with Whitney Houston and other R&B/pop divas. It helped to earn her a place on tour with the Billy Graham Crusade, exposing her to thousands of fellow Christians.
The success of “Redeemer” encouraged Christian music fans to listen to Mullen’s message of racial reconciliation. In an industry where white and black Christian music fans generally had divergent tastes, Mullen’s ability to reach beyond such barriers was noteworthy. Writing in the July of 2001 issue of COM, Lou Carlozo noted that “at a time when the Christian music community confronts grim walls that divide it racially and spiritually, no other artist may be as well poised to help bring them down. For Mullen is more than just an African American performer who appeals to both black and white audiences. In her music, she has taken the bold and unusual step of tackling the subject of race head on.” For her part, Mullen acknowledged her need to overcome stereotypes. “I’ve had to deal with a lot of preconceived ideas,” Mullen said in a summer of 2001 interview with GMA Today. “One of those ‘ideas’ being that my music is urban or black gospel based on my skin color . Some radio stations took a look and automatically said, ‘We can’t play that.’ Now, some probably didn’t realize they were doing it, but a special mark was still put on my music. Because my face was different, I was treated differently.”
Touring actively in support of her Word debut album, Mullen confronted lingering prejudice head-on. “Many times when I’ve sung about racial issues in a place that’s never had an African-American performer, people tell me after the concert, ‘We haven’t ever talked about racial issues in our family, but we want to address them now,’” Mullen told Today’s Christian Woman writer Camerin Courtney in a March/April of 2002 interview. “Sometime last year when I performed live on a radio station, the DJ took calls from listeners between songs. One man phoned to admit he’d once been a racist. He asked for forgiveness and told me he loves my music and has bought one of my albums.”
In 2001 Mullen won the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Award for Songwriter of the Year, becoming the first African American ever to do so. “Redeemer” won Dove Awards for Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year and Song of the Year as well. Expectations ran high in advance of the mid-2001 release of her second Word album, Talk about It. Building upon the strengths of its predecessor, the CD offers a potent blending of old-school funk and contemporary hip-hop with a streetwise, empowering message. “Baby Girl” offers reassurance to troubled young women, while “Black Light” invokes the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Tracks like “Let Me Be” deal with personal fears and doubts with a sassy yet sanctified air. Balancing such groove-driven numbers are finely wrought pop/gospel songs like “Call On Jesus” and “When Heaven Calls.” An album by turns celebratory and thought-provoking, Talk about It demonstrated that Nicole’s first Word album was more than a fluke success.
Mullen was back in late 2002 with Christmas in Black and White, a holiday album matching traditional tunes like Come, O Come, Emmanuel” with her own compositions. Among the latter was “Lamb of God,” a soaring ballad celebrating the Nativity, and “Sing, Angels, Sing,” a joyful pop tune with a Caribbean feel. Napoleon Coleman Jr., Mullen’s father, joined her on a duet of “The Christmas Song.” Renowned Christian singer/guitarist Phil Keaggy and saxophonist Kirk Whalum were among the guest players on several tracks. As a result of efforts to expand her following, Christmas in Black and White received distribution in the secular market through Curb Records.
Beyond her recording and touring activities, Mullen remains true to her role as wife and mother to children Max and Jasmine. In addition, she has actively men-tored a circle of preteens and teens in the Nashville area. Together with her husband, she served as a youth leader at her local church and participated in the Kids Across America summer camp program.
While Mullen remained known mostly in the Christian music world, mainstream critics began to take note of her as well. In a June 27, 2003, Cincinnati Enquirer concert review, Larry Nager praised Mullen as “simply the hippest act in mainstream Christian pop, blending Afro-pop (‘Freedom’), full-out dance funk (‘Shooby’), and various elements of hip-hop, rock, and India Arie-style acoustic soul. Combine that with her casual-yet-compelling stage presence, her fine songwriting, and her athletic ability to dance and sing at the same time and you’ve got the reigning queen of contemporary Christian music.”
Such a lofty position seemed within Mullen’s reach. In interviews, she stated her intention to reach as broad an audience as possible without compromising her gospel-rooted message. “I want it all,” she told CCM’s Carlozo. “I want to have my feet planted firmly in the church, but I want to reach across the world. I believe that as believers we’re called to do that, to reach outside the safety of the church. Not that I’m leaving, but I feel a pull there, and I just want to make sure my feet are planted firmly before I reach over.”
Don’t Let Me Go, Frontline, 1991.
Wish Me Love, Frontline, 1992.
Nicole C Mullen, Word, 2000.
Talk about It, Word, 2001.
Christmas in Black and White, Word, 2002.
Alfonso, Barry, The Billboard Guide to Contemporary Christian Music, Billboard Books, 2002.
Brothers, Jeffrey L., Hot Hits-Christian Hit Radio, CCM Books, 1999.
CCM, May 2000, p. 48; August 2001, p.28.
Cincinnati Enquirer, June 27, 2003.
GMA Today, Summer 2001, p. 12.
“A Voice for Racial Harmony,” Today’s Christian Woman,http://www.christianitytoday.com/tcw/2002/002/1.44.html (July 17, 2003).
Additional information was obtained from Word Records publicity materials, June 2003.