Her passion for Christ was contagious. I hung up the phone, filled with a renewed sense of joy and anticipation of the Christmas season. She had spoken candidly about her family and about her Lord. She gave me a glimpse of her perspective on life and I got goosebumps. Who was she? Nicole C. Mullen.
I asked Mullen about her latest CD, Christmas in Black and White. I thought I understood the meaning of the title. I knew she was black and her husband, David Mullen, was white. She had gathered both sides of the family together to participate on the album, so the meaning of Christmas in Black and White was a given. Or so I thought.
We were two minutes into our conversation when Mullen began explaining to me the deeper meaning of the title. “The first meaning of Christmas in Black and White is simply the fact that God came down in the form of a man, born to a virgin. The angel said, ‘This is good news for all people.’ That same God is the One who declared, ‘Whosoever will, let him come.’ And that in itself is Christmas in black and white: Christmas in the letters, Christmas in the scripture.
“And because of that first Christmas in black and white, we’re now able to have Christmas among the races, among the cultures and among the different people groups.”
She went on to say, “Our color only describes us, it doesn’t define us. And it’s something to be celebrated, not ignored. It’s a ‘color thing’ and it’s beautiful. This is how our family is, and we love telling people about it.”
To celebrate, both sides of the family came together — “in-laws, out-laws, moms, dads, nieces, nephews?” — to make the Christmas CD. Mullen’s father, Napoleon Coleman, Jr., sings a velvety-smooth rendition of “The Christmas Song.” Her father-in-law, Frederic Mullen tells the story of the real St. Nicholas on the funky “St. Nick’s Groove.” Other family members appear as well, including Mullen’s 9-year-old daughter, Jasmine, and her 5-year-old son, Maxwell.
Mullen has made a point of including her children on each of her CDs. She said, “Family breakup is such an epidemic, especially in music families. This is our way of doing our best to stay a family unit. It’s not just Mommy and her thing, but it’s all of us. We all make sacrifices and we’re rewarded together.”
Don’t be deceived; Mullen doesn’t include her children in her work just to show the world how wonderful they are. The purpose for including them in her work is bigger than any mom’s bragging rights. “I wanted to put reality in there,” she said. “I want to introduce the world to my crazy family and say, ‘This is how we live, and if you take a close look, you may find that our family is a lot like yours.'”
On Mullen’s self-titled debut CD, one of her children can be heard fussing in the background between songs. “There are times when I’m in the studio and my kids walk in and they’re fighting over who-took-the-toy-that-he-had-first. This is reality — probably for most of us, anyway,” she said.
“Jesus Christ came to die for real people. And unless we can admit that we have shortcomings and we have fallen, and we are sinners and we are flawed, then there’s nothing to redeem us from. So this is my way of saying, ‘I’ll go first.'”
Mullen’s family may not be perfect, but it is rooted in Christ. “I grew up in a godly home. My parents are both deacons in the church and have been since I was a kid. They got us up at 6 a.m. and had us pray every morning.”
The power of prayer and devotion to God is evidenced by Mullen’s 14 Dove Award nominations and “2002 Female Vocalist of the Year” award, but those aren’t the things she focuses on. “Any bow I were to take without giving credit to God first, or any trophy or award I might receive without casting it as His feet would be just . . .it would be a farce,” she said.
What is her favorite part of the Christmas holiday? Family. “We have a lot of fun just being able to relax and enjoy each other and enjoy what God has done in our lives.”
She recalled a particular Christmas when she and her dad had gone to visit her grandfather in a nursing home. “We walked in and it was depressing because you could smell the stench of death. I remember thinking, They have my papa here, the one who pastored people, the one who preached the word in and out of season, the one who gave me a chance to sing from the time I was two. He had been a robust man, jolly and plump. And now he was a thin man sitting in a wheelchair.
“My dad spoke to him with dignity and said, ‘I brought you a gift.’ He pulled out a bag of oranges and began to peel one for my granddad. I thought, Man, this is such a strange gift.
“When my dad broke open the orange, it was as if the smell of life was very contrasted against the smell of death. I remember crying and I had to leave the room.
“Then I realized, Wow, this is the same way Christ came into the world — as a beacon of light against the stench of death, against the darkness of death. And it was beautiful. It was God in all His glory lying in a dirty manger with smelly things around Him. And He came to give us life.”
The aim of Mullen’s work is to celebrate that Giver of Life. “That’s what Christmas in Black and White is all about,” she said. “I want the world to know this God, to taste and see that the Lord is good and to focus on the real meaning of Christmas.
“Really, it’s about ‘What can I give because of the Giver of Life?’ When it comes down to it, I found that the best gift I can offer God is not necessarily my talent, not necessarily my money, though those things are included, but the best thing I can offer is the thing that He wants most. And that’s all of me.”
I couldn’t sum up our conversation any better than Mullen herself when she said, “The Lord is good and His mercies endure forever. And ’tis the season to celebrate it.”
Nicole C. Mullen’s latest CD, Christmas in Black and White, is in stores now. Christi Bear is an online editor for Focus on the Family.