by TRACY ZOLLINGER TURNER
Jenn Cristy has a credo for these challenging times: “Be kind and have conversations with people.” A writer and performer of original music, as well as owner of One Pulse Entertainment, the past pandemic year has hit her hard. In addition to the obstacles that she, like many who make a living in the performing arts, faced, she lost a sister-in-law to COVID-19 in the spring of 2020.
“It definitely put a hard stop for me mentally and emotionally,” she says. When she’s emerged to play music in a safe, small place or for an online audience, “I have noticed that people are being a lot kinder—I think we’re hungry for it. We want to be around each other. We want to be experiencing some sort of normalcy.”
Cristy, 42, was adopted at 18 months and raised in a white family in Tennessee with two older brothers, a mother who is “one of those lifelong students and lifelong teachers,” (and is pursuing advanced degrees in her 80s) and a father who is a chemist. She was classically trained on piano from the age of three and also became a competitive swimmer, which won her a scholarship at Indiana University.
Toward the end of her college career, she was invited to tour with John Mellencamp—which she did for a year and a half— playing flute, piano, percussion, organ, and violin, in addition to singing in his band. Soon after, she settled into marriage with elementary school teacher Ben Strawn, motherhood with their daughter, April—now a senior at Edgewood High School—and her own musical career.
As her husband is white, she’s used to getting “looks” when they’re out and about together. “I just ignore them. I was raised in a very, very white family and I’ve already gotten all the looks and been called all the names.” But she remembers the hair pulling and bullying from her childhood and thinks, “If I had had someone like Kamala Harris that I could’ve looked at when I was in third grade and crying every day after school—to see someone like me in that position, I think it would have really shifted things.”
Cristy recently learned the identities of her biological parents—specifically that her father, who is deceased, was Black and also a musician and that her mother is white. The world is due to change if only because “there are a lot more people out there who look like me.”
Recently appointed by the mayor to the committee that will assess the future of the John Waldron Arts Center, Cristy has been thinking about how we could evolve locally.
“Conversations are good. Openness is good. Open-mindedness is good. And I think this town has potential for that,” she says. “Bloomington is a great town. If we listen to each other, we have the potential to be absolutely epic.”