He Works With Divas, but Didn’t Marry One

Mr. Nelson “handled almost everything,” she said, from securing the church and its pastor, Dr. Trunell D. Felder, to marry them on Christmas Eve, a particularly busy day, to lining up the wedding’s gospel and R&B music performances, which left few dry eyes among the pews.

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The groom and Dr. Trunell D. Felder, the pastor of the church, chatting before the ceremony.

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Whitten Sabbatini for The New York Times

Ms. Cartwright and Mr. Nelson met, fittingly, over a piano in 2015 — one she was trying to get rid of. “Fred had just started as music director at the church, and I had this grand piano I was looking to sell,” she said.

Though the Nelson name was prominent in Chicago music circles — he started performing at age 6, playing piano as an opener for Ray Charles, and his father, Fred Nelson Jr., helped shape the city’s gospel sound in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s as the organist at First Church of Deliverance — she knew nothing of Mr. Nelson’s background.

Still, she felt intimidated by his job at the church because of its importance. New Faith, which seats 2,500, is home to six choirs. “One day I saw him walking down the hall, and I was going back and forth in my mind,” she said. “‘Should I tell him about the piano?’” If there was anyone who might know of a buyer, she thought, it would be Mr. Nelson. “I finally got the nerve to ask him directly.”

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The couple chose to get married in a simple ceremony witnessed by close friends, family and a few members of the congregation who decided to stay behind after the Sunday Christmas Eve service.

Credit
Whitten Sabbatini for The New York Times

She had a picture of the piano, bought for the eldest of her two sons, Dionte Cartwright, now the youth music conductor at New Faith. But Mr. Nelson wanted to see the Yamaha Grand Disklavier in person. They made loose plans to meet at her house in the Chicago suburb Homewood, at a time when Mr. Nelson’s chaotic schedule allowed. (In addition to his work with Ms. Franklin and at the church, he is an artistic director at the City of Matteson School District; music minister at First Church of Deliverance, where his father had played organ; and an independent producer, performer and arranger.)

Ms. Cartwright got word one day while she was…

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