Most individuals dream of living a life that will make this world a better place. They hope that they can leave a legacy behind that reflects a life of positive influence. This dream is one that Rex Nelon accomplished. It was his vision 30 years ago, which sparked the national ministry of the Nelons. It was also his influence that helped begin the careers of some of Gospel Music’s most beloved artists, such as Karen Peck Gooch and Janet Paschal.
For years, Rex Nelon’s daughter, Kelly, sang alto alongside him. Now, Kelly sings with her two beautiful daughters, Amber and Autumn, and her husband, Jason Clark. It is the legacy of this Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame inductee that is still being lived out through his daughter and granddaughters. I had the privilege of interviewing Autumn Nelon Clark, Kelly’s youngest daughter.
Born on January 20, 1997, Autumn is now 20 years old. While she has always been behind the scenes of her family’s career, she has recently taken on the role of singer/mandolin player for the group.
“For a while it was just the three of them – my mom, dad and sister,” Amber says. “But a few years ago, my dad got sick, and I had to fill in for him. I’ve been up there ever since.”
While Autumn has watched her family walk onto stages all of her life, it never made it easier when it was her turn to finally take the stage. The young lady confesses that it was more than a little intimidating for her to sing in front of people for the first time.
“I loved to sing but was terrified to step on stage,” Autumn shares. “I always used to be scared to sing in front of people. I prayed about it, and I came to realize that God didn’t give me a spirit of fear.”
She admits to still getting nervous “every now and then” on stage.
As mentioned before, not only does Autumn showcase an incredible voice every night on stage, but she can also tear up a mandolin.
“I loved the way it sounded,” Autumn points out. “So, I decided to start learning to play. I’ve been teaching myself with a little help from some friends.”
Autumn is thankful for the legacy and influence of her grandfather. The blonde songstress says that two of the most influential people in her life now are Kelly and Amber.
“My mom and sister have taught me so much, not just about singing but about life,” Autumn shares. “I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”
The sisters have a special bond. Of course, with siblings come the inevitable stories that may only be funny from one sibling’s perspective. Autumn notes that it is hard coming up with a story about her sister, but thankfully, she was able to pull one out for us that she still laughs about today.
“This story is funny to me but wasn’t funny to her (Amber),” Autumn begins. “When we were younger, she had bruised her tailbone playing basketball. For some reason, I thought it would be really funny to pull the chair out from under her. She definitely didn’t think it was funny.”
Recently, Autumn had her own kind of accidental, not-so-safe experience with a birthday cake gone wrong.
“Oh my goodness that is one memory I will never forget,” Autumn says. “It was my 20th birthday. I was lighting the candles when the banner on my cake caught on fire. It all went downhill from there. I didn’t know what to do. Everyone just stood around laughing and shocked that this was even happening. Here was this cake, just up in flames.”
The comical video of Autumn attempting to blow out the burning paper banner atop her cake is available on her Instagram page.
Back on stage, the Nelons have compiled quite a list of awards, accolades and special performance opportunities. Some of those awards include three National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARA) GRAMMY nominations, four Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Awards and a host of other accolades. They have a full schedule of dates all across the country, with some exciting new things coming up.
“We are currently working on a new Americana CD that will be coming out very soon,” Autumn points out. “Stay tuned.”
Also, the group will be a part of special kind of concert series, which will be touring this year and next. It is called the American Family Harmony Tour, featuring some of the Nelons’ Americana songs.
New material is fun, but Autumn’s favorites include Nelon standards.
“Of course, my mom’s signature song, ‘Oh for a Thousand Tongues,’ is just an amazing song,” Autumn shares. “But, I think my favorite one we do right now is ‘Then Came the Morning’ or ‘Family Chain.’ I love to see people being moved by the lyrics.”
For years, fans have watched as the Nelons have poured their heart and soul into their music.
Thankfully, they are not stopping any time soon. Still, it can be easy to get discouraged on the road and to start wondering if what you are doing is really making a difference. Keeping a fresh mind and renewed spirit while traveling can become a challenge. One scripture that the youngest Nelon has relied on, which has become a personal favorite, is Psalm 147:3 (“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” KJV).
Autumn has definitely made a positive impression on the hearts of fans across the country. Her advice to young artists is simply, “Don’t try to be anyone else but stay true to yourself.”
By staying true to herself, Autumn is blazing the path for others to follow, showing just a glimpse of the great things that God will be doing in the life of this talented young Southern Gospel sweetheart.
By Fayth Lore
First published by SGNScoops Magazine in August 2017