New Jersey is home to many ambitious and talented women who juggle family, career, and home. A select few of these women are also extremely busy building their own companies to help better manage the balance between work and home. At NJMOM, we want to highlight these extraordinary women building NJ businesses and learn the secret to their success.
Jody Mullen is a soprano vocalist and mother of two from Gillette, New Jersey. With roots in New York City, Brooklyn, Hoboken, and many towns throughout New Jersey, her performances range from Great American Songbook standards to original cabaret shows to soloist and section leader at Grace Church Brooklyn Heights. Between Jody’s nonprofit work with Music for All Seasons in Scotch Plains, taking care of her boys, and performing regularly throughout the New Jersey/New York area, Jody is the perfect example of a multi-tasking MOMpreneur. NJMOM had the opportunity to speak with Jody about how she manages it all, while staying inspired in her ever-evolving creative endeavors.
Soprano Vocalist and NJ MOMpreneur: Jody Mullen
NJMOM: What do you offer to your clients and how is it different than other professionals in your field? Jody: I am a professional singer performing on a regular basis in New Jersey and New York. Last year, I debuted an original cabaret show, Love Letters from Jersey, at Don’t Tell Mama on Restaurant Row in Manhattan, directed by Lennie Watts, who is the President of the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs. My show is a tribute to some of Jersey’s greatest artists: Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, and so many more. Since its debut, I’ve been able to market it to a number of small venues in New Jersey, including the libraries in Gillette, Warren, Basking Ridge, Rocky Hill, Bridgewater, and Rochelle Park.
I also perform in a number of other capacities. I’ve served as a professional soprano soloist and section leader at Grace Church Brooklyn Heights since 2008. As a church musician, I sing Sunday services, weddings, funerals and memorials, ordinations, and special services.
Since 2014, I’ve also worked for an amazing nonprofit based in Scotch Plains called Music for All Seasons. MFAS brings live professional performances to audiences who may not get to hear a lot of live music, like nursing home residents and at-risk young people.
Recently, a woman who attended one of my “Love Letters” performances told me it’s nice to see a younger woman performing Great American Songbook music—show tunes and pop standards from the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. That’s the music I really love, and it was a wonderful compliment, because I do want to keep it alive and pass it along to my own children. Also, I’ll never argue with someone calling me young!
NJMOM: What inspired you to become a vocalist?
Jody: Before I had my older son in 2013, I was studying and pursuing classical music, especially opera, because teachers and other music professionals had told me that it was the right niche for my voice. It’s music that I appreciate, but I’m not truly passionate about it, and I was starting to feel burned out. If I hadn’t had my baby, I may have quit. But after he was born, I noticed that I was just so much happier playfully singing songs from The Sound of Music to him during his diaper changes than I was when I was practicing. So I put my opera scores away and brought a bunch of show tunes and standards I really loved to my next voice lesson and said, “Okay, I sing this now.” And I do!
Lennie Watts, who directed my “Jersey” show, deserves a lot of credit for helping me to get off the ground. I wasn’t sure how to transition from auditioning for established opera companies and programs to marketing myself as an independent cabaret performer or entertainer. It was his idea to put together a Jersey-themed show that would be marketable around here. I debuted it in New York and got some nice local press, which has made it easier to sell to venues nearby. And even if someone is looking for a different kind of performance from me, reading about the show says a lot about what I can do.
NJMOM: What is your favorite part about your career?
Jody: I love what a universally positive experience live music is. When my first son was born at St. Joseph’s in Paterson, I kept saying to the doctors and nurses taking care of him that I felt like such small potatoes compared to them—after all, they were saving babies’ and children’s lives, and I felt like my own work must be kind of vain and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. I even considered going back to school so that I could do something more “valuable.” But I wound up doing a benefit concert for the St. Joe’s NICU that a number of people from the hospital attended, and they kept saying over and over how healing and affirming it was to have someone sing beautiful songs in their honor.
I didn’t have to put aside my passion to make a difference. In my professional life, I try to always lead with loving others. It’s all we’re really here for.
NJMOM: What is your background in your professional expertise?
Jody: I studied music at Barnard College of Columbia University as an undergrad and also did a summer semester at CAP21, which was, at the time, the musical theater training program for NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. I performed small roles in Off-Off-Broadway productions alongside theater professionals while I was in college, and after I graduated, I studied opera with some fantastic teachers and coaches in New York.
NJMOM: Who is your role model? Why?
Jody: When it comes to parenting, I’m very fortunate to have my own mom and dad as amazing role models. Growing up, I always knew how much they loved me and believed in me, which I think are the most important things you can give your children. Professionally, I admire many artists, though my number one is consistently Shirley Jones, who starred in the movie-musical versions of Oklahoma!, Carousel, and The Music Man. She has a voice and presence I absolutely love.
NJMOM: What’s the best piece of advice your mom ever gave to you?
Jody: I am really hard on myself, and my mom is great at reminding me to lighten up a little.
NJMOM: Do you have a favorite quote you live by? Why is this quote so important to you?
Jody: I really like, “When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad, and that’s my religion.” It’s commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but he was quoting someone who spoke at a church meeting he attended. It sums up how I try to live my life. I am as flawed as humans come, but I can always try to do something good.
NJMOM: What are your favorite things to do in New Jersey with your family?
Jody: This question is actually really hard! My husband and I used to go out to dinner in Hoboken or head into the city all the time, and we made trips to the Shore most summers. Now we have kids and live in the suburbs, so that makes doing those things a little more challenging. We have a gorgeous backyard and a renovated kitchen and deck, so we like to have people over for dinner or a barbecue. But this is a good reminder that we need to get out and do stuff sometimes!
NJMOM: What is the best part about being a mom for you?
Jody: Oh, I don’t even know where to begin. I just love my boys so much, and I’ve loved every stage. I really enjoy exploring the world with my kids and seeing things through their eyes. I am an only child myself, and having a bigger family just feels right for me.
NJMOM: What are your favorite businesses in NJ?
Jody: More than anything, I am extremely grateful for the kind of healthcare we have available here. I could not have asked for better experiences when I had my boys at St. Joe’s, and I have also been very happy with their pediatrician at Summit Medical Group in Berkeley Heights. My husband and I were married in the conservatory at The Madison Hotel in Morristown and occasionally spend the night there when we’re celebrating a birthday or anniversary. I would highly recommend it to any couple planning their special day together.
NJMOM: Where do you reside/ vacation in New Jersey?
Jody: My parents and I moved from western Massachusetts to Sparta when I was six, and they still live in the same house. My husband, who is my high school sweetheart, also moved to Sparta at a young age, and his family still owns his childhood home on Lake Mohawk. This makes holidays easy for us, because all four grandparents get to see their grandsons with very little travel time.
My husband and I stayed together all through college, and when he graduated from Rutgers, we moved to Hoboken together. We were there for nine years and bought our first home together there. I absolutely love Hoboken and will always consider it home. I really miss the cute downtown with all its restaurants and the beautiful waterfront parks, and my husband and I definitely miss the easy trip into New York City.
We sold our condo and purchased a home in Gillette in Morris County just over two years ago. We wanted to give our son a big yard to play in and a place to ride his bike, like we had growing up. We wanted a little more space for a younger sibling. We really like that Gillette is so peaceful and green—you can easily pretend you’re in rural Vermont—but also has quick access to the city and so much of NJ.
NJMOM: Anything else you’d like to tell moms in New Jersey?
New Jersey is a great place to be a mom! We have amazing maternity and pediatric care, tons of great towns for families, and tons of fun stuff to do. I’d encourage you to check out the kids’ programs at your local library, because libraries are wonderful! And please, support live music.