It’s time to Break It Down!
(Revised from Break It Down – 12/21/11 and 12/24/12)
Merry Christmas to you! I know some of you are caught up in the whole “We Are The (Secular) World” trip; thus you substitute Holiday for Christmas in seasonal greetings. Of course, those innately curious enough to conduct the requisite etymological research know that the root derivation of holiday is “Holy Day;” but I digress; that is fodder for another day.
By now, many of you should have already begun your well planned and no doubt, richly deserved hiatus from work. You have finished your shopping and taken care of all the major errands that accompany preparing for the Big Day. Perhaps all that remains is packing and/or traveling; maybe that throw-down cooking marathon that precedes the arrival of the family, friends, and guests whom you will host over the coming week.
As is my custom, I will not use this Christmas Season Post, if you will allow me to call it that, to challenge you to sort the facts, be they esoteric or mundane. No, this is your time to take advantage of the opportunity to hang out with your guests, or to be a guest, and enjoy the hospitality of friends and family.
In the true spirit of keeping it simple for both you and me, I am, as the Title suggests, reprising a previous post. In fact, not just any previous post, not even just any prior Christmas Post. I am, essentially re-posting my entry from last Christmas and the one that preceded it.
The English playwright and poet, William Congreve, in the opening line of his 1697 Play entitled “The Mourning Bride,” asserted, “Music has Charms to soothe a savage Breast, To soften rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.” I think Congreve was on to something. If indeed music is capable of enabling us to overcome our basest instincts, and in so doing, ennoble us to pursue our finer impulses, then indeed, we should take more opportunities to render ourselves captivated by its magical spell. (By the way, it really is breast…not beast; caught you thinking, didn’t I?)
So, I identified and pulled together an assortment of my favorite Christmas Standards. This year, I am again offering the same artistic olio for your reading, viewing, and listening pleasure. Below, you will find bios for the 14 artists, the 13 YouTube video interpretations, and the 12 songs listed and included in the form of a Yuletide e-concert. The information and links below tell the essence of the story; but there are a few points I wish to amplify for your consideration.
The number in parenthesis after each artist’s name is his or her current age, or the age at which the artist died, in the cases of James Brown, Eartha Kitt, John Coltrane, Nat King Cole, and Donny Hathaway. Each artist, song and interpretation is special in its own right.
The legendary Godfather of Soul, as James Brown became known, died on Christmas Day (2006, aged 73), as did Eartha Kitt (2008, aged 81), whom shall ever remain, to many of us, the incomparably personified Catwoman. There was both a surreal sadness and a resolute completeness associated with them ending their respective earthly journeys on Christmas Day, two years apart. Both artists were born in South Carolina; Brown in Barnwell, and Kitt, in North. Brown was renowned for his energetic performances, which earned him another of his many titles, “Hardest working man in show business.” His rendition of “Merry Christmas Baby” was a reminder that he had earned his chops the hard way, and that he was much more than flash and dash. Kitt’s “Santa Baby” is on my list, not only because it is a classic; it is, but also because like me, it was born in 1953. I’d like to think we both (the song and I) have held up well.
Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” quite simply personifies Christmas for many of us. Hathaway, an initiate of Howard University’s Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, was a brilliant musician, but a troubled man. He endured bouts of depression and suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, which ultimately led him to commit suicide (1979, aged 33). “This Christmas,” however, lives on, and along with it and many of his other classics, so does his melodious voice.
Chris Brown (age 24), has had his moments. He is known in most circles as either the Pied Piper to Generation Y (Millennials), or That Guy…you know, the one who beat down Robyn Fenty (age 25); Rihanna to you! This post will not attempt to moralize, or capitalize in any other way on the beef between these two. Rather, for the purposes of this commentary, I wanted to touch upon Chris’ cover of Hathaway’s classic tune This Christmas. I think he did a fine job, and is an example that, many voices to the contrary, Gen X’ers are not only capable, but do in fact, continue to perpetuate the tradition of making great music.
Nat King Cole (1965, age 45) and Natalie Cole (age 63), father and daughter, both stellar musicians, in their own right represent two successive generations of the “family business.” Though the elder Cole is probably better known for his interpretation of “The Christmas Song,” I intentionally chose his rendition of another standard, “O Holy Night,” to highlight another of his great performances. I included Natalie’s rendering of “The First Noel,” solely because of my partiality to the reverse spelling of “Noel!”
Having eschewed Cole’s version of “The Christmas Song,” I could not omit it altogether. Mary J. Blige (age 42), delivers a virtuoso performance of this classic tune, The Christmas Song. She is one of my favorite contemporary artists, singing one of the Christmas songs I enjoy most. Ledisi (age 43, until her New Years’ Eve birthday) and Lauryn Hill (age 38) are two of contemporary R&B’s most accomplished female voices. Their versions of “Give Love On Christmas Day,” and “Little Drummer Boy,” respectively, are special treats, and integral components of this e-concert.
John Coltrane and Dianne Reeves (age 57) add an instrumental (“My Favorite Things”) and vocal (“Christmas Time Is Here”) jazz flavor to the mix, respectively. “Trane,” born in Hamlet, North Carolina, died of liver cancer (1967, aged 40), another life cut short, at far too young an age. He and the combo render a cool version of the tune, so much so that it could make it one of “your favorite things.” Ms. Reeves uses her powerful and well-trained instrument to construct a compelling version of “Christmas Time Is Here.”
Christina Aguilera (age 33) and Brian McKnight (age 44) unite in a superb collaboration on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” They revel in demonstrating multiple octave range and elasticity in framing their unique arrangement of this classic that makes it a song I enjoy listening to again and again. Last, but certainly not least, Will Downing (age 50), perhaps my favorite musical artist, delivers a silky smooth rendition of “White Christmas.” What can I say? Will…is Will!
That’s it, 14 artists, 13 videos (a Baker’s Dozen), and 12 songs. Add it all up and you get “12 Days Of Christmas: The Concert – Redux!” Enjoy it again, and by all means, remember the Reason for the Season!
I’m done; holla back!
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Consult the links below for more detailed information on a variety of aspects relating to this post:
James Brown (73) – Merry Christmas Baby
Eartha Kitt (81) – Santa Baby
Donny Hathaway (33) – This Christmas
Chris Brown (21) – This Christmas
Nat King Cole (45) – O Holy Night
Natalie Cole (60) – The First Noel
Kem (41) – The Christmas Song
Ledisi (32) – Give Love On Christmas Day
Lauryn Hill (35) – Little Drummer Boy
John Coltrane (40) – My Favorite Things
Dianne Reeves (54) – Christmas Time Is Here
Christina Aguilera (30) & Brian McKnight (41) – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Will Downing (47) – White Christmas