“I would sing The Clark Sisters music when I was younger and just dream,” said local gospel artist Helen Freeman of her early fascination with the genre.
Being on stage in front of a crowd just clicks with Freeman, who grew up performing for audiences since she was 3 years old singing in the choir at Gethsemane Church downtown. She got her foot in the door when she began singing regularly in 1985 with local group, Desmond Pringle
& the Proclamation.
“I would sing throughout the Charleston area, and I think that’s how people got to know who I was vocally,” Freeman said, who ended up being featured in The Chronicle for her performance at the local black-owned newspaper’s 20th anniversary conference where civil rights activist Dick Gregory spoke. “Then I started climbing and climbing to more major stages after that,” she said, having opened for acts like The Winans and Shirley Caesar.
Her son, Stephen Freeman, who is a touring musician out of Atlanta, is the one who brought her back to music after she took a hiatus for about a decade to focus on being a mom.
“He said, ‘Mom, I’m tired of hearing you say you’re going back into the studio. I’m getting you back into the studio.’ And that’s exactly what Stephen did, and it changed my life,” she said. “I write the songs, he puts the music to them.”
Her son produced her 2018 album, It’s My Time, working on the material in between playing keys on tour for stars such as Mary J. Blige, Jessie J and Keke Wyatt.
Getting back to her music was the right move: the album’s title track won international acknowledgement with a Prayze Factor Award for best 2021 praise and worship song, her holiday song, “Christmas Day,” is currently receiving radio play, and last month, she opened for the No Fear Conference in North Charleston.
For her, gospel music takes on the role of good news.
“Especially during this time, there are people that are dealing with loss of a loved one … people are suicidal … life is happening to everyone,” she said. “Gospel music can give people a place of hope that things can be better, that things can change.”
“It brings a level of peace to me,” Freeman said, who in the past has experienced her own life turned upside down with the death of her brother. “Being able to sing a song and meditate on that song gives me a place of rest, calm and stillness where I can just breathe.”