HUB Concert Preview: Holiday Soul with Vanessa Williams, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and the San Francisco Symphony

HUB Concert Preview: Holiday Soul with Vanessa Williams, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and the San Francisco Symphony Photo Credit Rod Spicer

By Michael P Coleman

When Vanessa Williams takes the stage, it’s hard to know exactly what she’s going to do.  She’s a riveting comedic and dramatic actress, and a master on the dance floor.  She’s also a brilliant singer, having topped a number of Billboard charts including pop, R & B, jazz, classical, gospel, and holiday music during her 35 year career. 

Williams is joining forces with two other musical treasures, the San Francisco Symphony and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, for two evenings of Christmas favorites.  They’ll perform December 7 and 8 at Davies Hall in San Francisco.

VanessaWilliams Photo Credit Gilles Toucas 350During our recent EXCLUSIVE chat, Williams revealed that the two San Francisco performances will be as much of a thrill for her as they will be for those fans who will be lucky enough to be at Davies Hall. 

“Getting a chance to hear all of my arrangements with a full orchestra is a treat for the audience and for me, as well,” the 55 year old superstar said of the upcoming shows.  “There’s nothing like live musicians playing real music.  The show will be made up of beautifully sounding instruments in a beautiful music hall.”  

“We’ll do “Dreamin’,” “Save The Best For Last,” “The Sweetest Days,” and “Colors Of The Wind,” for sure, and then a few from the Christmas albums: “Star Bright,” which is one of my favorites, “The Little Drummer Boy,” and “Rise Up Shepherd And Follow,” which is my gospel one.”

As Williams rattled off those holiday chestnuts, I was reminded of her ability to energize time-worn favorites in a way that many of her contemporaries simply can’t.  I wondered whether her musical theatre background served her in performing songs like “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells,” tunes that have been sung and enjoyed for generations. 

“As an actress, I approach everything as telling a story,” Williams affirmed. “I figure out what’s my moment before, where am I taking the listener, and who I am as a person. That allows the listener to create their own picture while they’re listening.”

“I don’t have my songs auto tuned so they sound absolutely perfect and there’s no character or feeling throughout the whole tune,” Williams continued.  “We’re so used to all vocals being auto tuned and so mechanical, and they lose their life. When people tell me ‘Oh, my God. You make me cry,’ I know I’m doing my job — I’m singing a song that’s got a beautiful melody and lyrics that mean something and tell a story.”

Most of Williams’ holiday catalog is credited to Rob Mathes, who produced her Star Bright and Silver & Gold Christmas albums.  Mathes will be joining Williams onstage in San Francisco.

“Rob truly embodies not only the spirit of Christmas, but the musicality,” Williams said. “He’s an extraordinary musician, a fantastic arranger, and has symphonic ears like none other. Rob is my musical director for all of my symphony dates, so in San Francisco he’ll be playing and singing, and all of his gorgeous arrangements will be heard.”

Over the course of almost four decades, Williams has, like all of us, experienced life’s ups and downs.  I couldn’t let her get away without asking her for the secret to weathering life’s challenges.

“The key is, there’s always the light,” Williams imparted, with the confidence of someone who’s weathered her share of storms.  “It’s just moving forward to get to it. Life is precious, and it should be enjoyed and revered. Eventually, the dust will settle and you’ll get the chance to rise from the ashes and be who you are. Whatever happens to you doesn’t change who you are. It’s just a circumstance.” 

That was one of many moments when my chat with Williams took on a spiritual tone.  As so much of her holiday music has a religious component, I asked her whether she’d ever considered recording a faith-based album. 

“I hadn’t thought about it,” Williams said, “although I do sing in church every holiday. I sing at Easter, and I just got my music for Christmas, so that definitely could be a possibility.”

Most of us won’t be able to hear Williams sing at her home church this Christmas.  But thanks to the San Francisco Symphony, we have a chance to get a glimpse of Williams’ Christmas magic this December 7 and 8. 

I don’t know about you, but wild reindeer couldn’t keep me away! 

Click here to purchase tickets to Holiday Soul with Vanessa Williams and the San Francisco Symphony. 

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 Connect with freelance writer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com, of follow him on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP