To commemorate the return of Nat Adderley Jr. to the Parker Jazz Club, Janet, Akina and Alana share their deep, undying family love.
By Cy White, photos courtesy of the Adderley Foundation
Generations of Love
A woman sits in a chair. She rocks a sleeping baby in her arms. She seems older, though age hasn’t carved itself on her features yet. It’s her eyes. Something kind and wise resides within them. Wisdom that attests to a mountain of experiences and time. “If he’s anything like the rest of the Adderleys, he’s going to be just fine,” she says, patting the slumbering baby with affection.
Janet Adderley speaks with energy, and she’s generous with her smile. Her eldest daughter, Akina, is on the line as well. “I’m an educator and a vocalist, songwriter, band leader here in town. And I’m the music director at a private high school in Hyde Park called Griffin School. I release music under my own name as well as a neo-jazz band called Nori. At the end of every school year I conduct the conservatory musicals at the Adderley School.” She, too, has kindness in her eyes. Though she’s less ostentatious than her mother, she was raised to speak up and with pride.
The Addereleys are a family of musical royalty. “Cannonball” Adderley, was a superhero of jazz. A name spoken with reverence whenever it’s mentioned. Janet herself is a living legend of the stage. Accolades and anecdotes make up the fabric of her legacy. She’s the embodiment of the Lena Horne classic “Yesterday When I Was Young.” Instead of melancholy and regret, however, Janet’s is a story of triumph, pride and community. Instead of her friends falling to the wayside, she kept her companions close like a second family.
My Name Is…
She’s built a strong family unit that not only ensures she never walks out on stage alone or hobbles into the spotlight simply waiting for her time to pass. She still has so many happy songs to sing. But there’s no regret there. Only the eagerness to get them out and the positivity that they will, they must.
This is the reason for the conversation she’s gifted Austin Woman magazine. On Saturday, Oct. 17, the Adderley family celebrated the long-anticipated return of Nat Adderely Jr., another legend in the family line and nephew to “Cannonball,” to the Parker Jazz Club on W. 4th St. It was a celebration of history. Of legacy and, above all else, joy. To commemorate the occasion, the Adderley Conservatory, founded by Janet, shared a performance of the play A…My Name Is Alice. It’s a project wrought from love and a desire to give children a voice. A way to proclaim, “I am.”
“A…My Name Is Alice is the show that got me to Broadway,” Janet reveals.
The Adderley Family
There’s such open and honest affection in everything Janet says. We explore what the Adderley Foundation is in terms of Janet and Akina’s personal interpretations of the nonprofit’s mission.
“The Adderley School was created about 30 years ago because my younger daughter did not speak in public until she was 9 years old,” Janet says. Her tone is clear, confident, the voice of a woman who loves to tell stories and warmly embraces all who’ll listen to her speak. “I was this Broadway actress with this powerhouse of a first daughter. If I were a color and Akina were a color, we’d be fire-engine red. But if my daughter Alana were a color she’d be lavender.
“So the Adderley School was created purely accidentally,” she continues. “As a mother’s need to help her daughter find her own voice and her own confidence in the world. It became my mission to create a foundation so for children who weren’t born of means and financial ability and were limited by the zip code they came from or their socio-economic background or the color of their skin or whatever the case may be. I wanted to create a foundation to underwrite outreach to Title 1 schools. Every child deserves the right to have access to this training. Ann Richards said it, ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t dream it.’ I really am a firm believer in that.”
She speaks of an upbringing of access, exposure to experiences from a mother who wanted her children to envision a world for themselves. She then touches on her life in Austin, how the passing of her father influenced her decision to reconnect with her Texas home. The mention of her father’s passing, unsurprisingly, causes Janet to become emotional. Though it doesn’t overwhelm her, there’s no mistaking the ache in her voice. The start-stop of her speech. Janet Adderley is a formidable woman who isn’t easily undone. That lingering hurt, it’s in her eyes. The subtle creasing of her brow. The sheen of unshed tears. She begins to pat her sleeping grandson once again. A steady beat to comfort both the child and herself as she speaks.
Save the Music
This love extends to the work Janet, Akina and Alana do to continue to bridge the gap between education and music. Many readers will remember a time when the relationship between the two was quite tumultuous. A time when school boards across the States pushed music programs out of schools to save money and allocate it to more classes in math and the sciences. With the Adderley Foundation, these three women have done real work to bring music back into the fold of child development.
“The value of arts education is phenomenal,” Janet says. “The Adderley’s are very much your family. The patriarch of the family, we called him Pops, Julian Adderley Sr., was the principal of Tallahassee High School. Education and music have gone hand in hand for four generations of Adderleys. This foundation is in honor of all of those efforts.
“Nathanial is not only continuing to tour all around the world,” she continues. “He’s working with up-and-coming jazz musicians in conservatories, colleges and high schools. So this concept of music and education walking hand-in-hand has been a huge part of our family’s history.”
Akina, too, recognizes the strides made, particularly during a time of extreme transitioning in schools, to get the arts more strongly integrated into school curriculums. As an alumnus of the famous La Guardia High School in New York, music and education have always been a focal point of her own development.
“I remember we did a walkout because there was to be a big budget cut to arts education,” Akina recalls. “So me and my friends did a walkout and walked from W. 68th St. all the way down to City Hall. I think if I tried to do that walk today I’d just fall out,” she says with a laugh.
“Some students are much more likely to connect to their academic life and invest in their academic life and engage in it when they have things at school like the arts that feed their soul and make them excited,” she says. “So many people talk about the ‘learning loss’ in the last year. I hope schools, by and large, take this opportunity to use music and theater and dance to connect with students and help them make connections. That’s going to be more efficient and effective in terms of getting them back on track academically.”
There is so Much Love in This House
Alana joins the call from the car. She’s riding alongside the man of the hour, Nat Adderley, who drives them back from another interview. She’s thus far been silent but in agreement with both Janet and her sister’s assessments of music education. Akina leaves shortly after to proctor a PSAT. At the end of the day, it all comes back to education, about enriching the lives of children.
When Alana makes it back to the house, more of that familial love permeates through the screen. She stands by her mother who still holds the sleeping child. The scene is a striking one: three generations of Adderley. Three generations of passion, music and love. All of it manifests in the young lives they reach. The talent and sense of self they foster within each child that crosses the Adderley threshold.
“I’m so excited for these seven incredible young women to show the world who they are,” Alana says with warmth. “These seven powerhouse young women who are leading the fray in talent and grace and empathy. Having watched them grow up under our wings and seeing them as they’re about to graduate and spread their wings and fly. It’s a very proud moment, a very powerful moment. I’m going to bring all of the tissues.”
Janet laughs beside her, a mother who knows her daughter and accepts her as she is. “Each of them joined us at different ages and at different points in their lives where they may have felt very uncertain and uncomfortable in their own skin,” Akin continues. “Being able to help guide them into becoming their best selves. It’s a magical thing that we get to do, and I do not take it for granted a single bit.”
Janet feels the sense of wonder as well. “I’m truly the fairy godmother,” she says. “All I do is sprinkle fairy dust. Alana is the engine of all of this. All the girls look to her and want to be her. It’s the perfect sort of evolution. What she’s able to bring out of these girls and give them is nothing short of extraordinary.
“Alana and Akina’s father has joined forces with us. When we were the Fabulous Four, Nathanial and I always talked about [this]. When he was on tour with Luther Vandross and I was on Broadway, we always knew we would get to a point in our lives where we would pass it on to the next generation. That we would teach, that we would educate. For this moment, as grandparents, to come together to do this is very meaningful. And we’re bringing everyone along with us.”
It’s all about music and family and love. Always love. As the conversation comes to a close Janet leaves with another gem from her years of experience and wisdom. “My mission statement is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is very much a ‘whole greater than the sum of its parts’ moment. We’re all coming together in this moment to make magic and to plant roots and foundations for the next generation.”
The Adderley Foundation: