by Michael P Coleman

I still remember hearing Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” for the first time.  I was six years old, it was a version by Diana Ross & the Supremes, and I thought the song was racist.

Don’t judge.  I was a late bloomer. 

I was a few years older — eight or nine, maybe — when I realized that the classic described a dream of a different kind of “white Christmas” than I’d imagined.  That revelation was a shock — kinda like the one I had twenty years later when I realized that, yes Virginia, the soulful Bobby Caldwell, who had just released an ironically scorching version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Vanessa Williams, was (and still is) a self-described “cracker.” 

“Do I sound terribly white?” Caldwell laughed by phone, after I told him that his speaking voice differed more than slightly from his Peabo Bryson-eque singing voice.  “My influences are broad.  We’re talking Motown to Philly to Muscle Shoals to the Beatles to Steely Dan…all kinds of stuff.  As a child, I was a huge Sinatra fan, and then around the age of nine or 10 I started to get into Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, The Spinners, The Dells, Earth Wind & Fire, all of that stuff.” 

Caldwell, 65 burst onto the national scene in the late 1970s as the voice behind the massive R & B and pop hit “Won’t You Won’t Do For Love.”  He’s stayed true to his soulful craft over the years, releasing an impressive collection of R & B – steeped songs including impressive covers of Etta James’ “At Last” and The Emotions’ “Don’t Ask My Neighbor” while earning a solid base of devoted, and largely African American, fans. 

Caldwell remembers a brush with greatness early in his career, and a sign that his soulful pipes were a surprise to some who looked upon his blue-eyed face. 

“Natalie Cole, God rest her soul, had the number one record in the country, “This Will Be,” while I was struggling my way up the chart,” Caldwell remembers.  “One day, I get a phone call, and it’s Natalie herself, asking me if I would consider opening for her first major tour.  Are you kidding me?  Sign me up for that!  And she was just as lovely as she could be, although I knew at the time that there was no way she knew I was white!  Somewhere along the line, I guess she digested that.”

“Our first show was in Cleveland, 7,500 seats, and it was all brothers and sisters.  They’d all come out to see soul bro Bobby Caldwell, and out comes this cracker.  You could have heard a pin drop!  I’ll tell you, that was the night I became a man.  But that night and over the years, I have found the black audience to be just incredibly embracing and well receiving.  Never once in 35 years did I ever hear a discouraging word from a black listener.  I always felt really welcomed, and I guess that says a lot about music.  Music should have no face.” 

IMG 4499In the early 1990s, Caldwell and Williams released their version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” featured on Williams’ Grammy-nominated, Gold-certified Star Bright project.  In my opinion, it’s the definitive version.  While most artists who cover the song sing it to each other, Caldwell and Williams sing it with each other, and the result is the sexiest, most playful version I’d heard since Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong released theirs over four decades earlier. 

“Vanessa and I recorded it during the summer,” Caldwell remembers.  “It was like 101 degrees in New York City.  We chilled it down in the studio until we were blowing frost, and it came out fairly nice, I think.  We tried to bring it up to date, while still having some camaraderie with each other.”

“There’s not enough great things I can say about that gal,” Caldwell says of Williams.  “She’s a lovely, engaging person and we have a chemistry, and I think it’s pretty evident on the recording.”

The legendary Vanessa Williams shares Caldwell’s fond memories of recording the duet. 

“I’m so happy that ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ still gets airplay today,” Williams says.  “Fans continue to play it throughout the year!  A friend of mine, a fantastic trumpet player named Jeff Kievit, introduced me to Bobby, who was the perfect fit for the duet.  It was wonderful working with Bobby — he’s a true class act.”

After you treat yourself to a listen to Caldwell and Williams’ version of the Christmas classic, you’ll wonder why Caldwell never released a full-length Christmas project.  With a voice like his, and the right production, we would have had a Nat “King” Cole-quality album to enjoy. 

“I’m a purist,” Caldwell reflects.  “My idea of a Christmas album is not ‘Bobby’s Funky Christmas.’  I’d want a full orchestra behind me, and the opportunity to do that just hasn’t presented itself.”

One opportunity that has presented itself to Caldwell is the chance to head back into the studio and record a contemporary project, last year’s exceptional Cool Uncle.  But it didn’t exactly drop in his lap:  Caldwell made it happen. 

“I just stumbled across this interview that Jack Splash, a R & B Grammy-winning producer, was doing.  He was being asked about his influences, and my name came up.  I reached out to him and said ‘Maybe we have something in common here.’  A couple of weeks later we got together.  It was the first time I kinda stood down and let someone else produce me.  It was great fun.” 

Speaking of opportunities, we’ve all got one coming up December 29-31.  Caldwell will be performing at Catalina’s in Los Angeles, and it’ll be a chance to see one of classic soul’s true legends, still at the top of his game. 

“I’m going to try to put in everything that had relevance over the last 35 years, a discography from the beginning, things that people ask for,” Caldwell says of the upcoming shows.  “I’ll also do a couple of songs from Cool Uncle.  The band is off the chart, and we’re doing two shows a night plus New Years Eve.  There aren’t that many clubs left in LA, if any, and Catalina’s has been at the forefront of the scene there.  I’m thrilled to be playing there, and it’s going to a be a great set of shows.” 

For tickets to Bobby Caldwell’s upcoming shows in LA, go to


Check out Caldwell’s cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and his new Cool Uncle project on iTunes. 


MPCBatman2015This feature was written by Sacramento-based freelancer Michael P Coleman. 

Connect with him at or on Twitter.



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