FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Sarah Snyder
November 19, 2012 – College Park, MD – Nolan Williams, Jr. premieres “Christmas Gift!” A Celebration of African American Holiday Traditions through Music and Spoken Word at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on December 14 and 15. Inspired by an African American tradition of gift-giving that dates back to the mid-19th Century, this family-friendly holiday event brings together music and readings that reflect the power of generosity in hard times.
“What we are aiming to do with the show is not to recreate a tradition that is lost, but to reclaim some of the lessons from that tradition,” Williams says.
“Christmas Gift!” will feature new and time-honored Christmas music — from African American spirituals and gospel to jazz and R&B — performed by Williams and his 33-member Voices of Inspiration, along with gospel/R&B legend Shirley Murdock and singer/songwriter John Stoddart. The music will be interwoven with holiday-themed readings of works by Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and other leading African American poets and writers. Join the artists for a Talk Back after the December 14 performance.
The Origins of Christmas Gift!
Nolan Williams, Jr. was inspired by Charlemae Rollins’s anthology, Christmas Gif’, to create this production especially for the Clarice Smith Center stage. As a librarian, Rollins was asked by parents for stories that celebrated African American Christmas traditions and, since these stories were hard to find in print, Rollins gathered and anthologized poetry and prose that expressed the importance of Christmas in African American life.
As Rollins explains, “Christmas gif’!” was a greeting game among enslaved Africans. When people encountered each other on Christmas Day, the person who could shout the greeting first received a gift — usually a handmade or home-baked treat — from the other person. Williams says, “You had people taking the time to create gifts when they really had nothing to give — a tremendous display of love and the selfless gift of self.”
About Nolan Williams, Jr. and Voices of Inspiration
Nolan Williams, Jr. has been immersed in the sounds and rhythms of African-American song throughout his life. A composer, director and the CEO of NEWorks Productions, he has collaborated with artists from Aretha Franklin to the National Symphony Orchestra and was a community partner in the Fortune’s Bones project at the Clarice Smith Center during the 2011-2012 season.
Organized and directed by Nolan Williams, Jr., Voices of Inspiration (VOI) specializes in African American sacred music. They have performed at the White House, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Amalfi Coast Music and Arts Festival.
About Shirley Murdock
With numerous top 10 R&B hits like “As We Lay” and “Go on Without You,” Shirley Murdock is a living R&B legend. In 1986, her debut LP Shirley Murdock! on Elektra Records went gold. In recent years, she has starred in a number of touring stage plays including “A Mother’s Prayer” and “3 Ways To Get A Husband,” and her most recent CD/DVD Live: The Journey features music co-written with her husband and songwriting partner, Dale DeGroat.
About John Stoddart
Philadelphia native John Stoddart is an accomplished performer, composer, writer and instrumentalist whose singing, producing, arranging and writing credits include Celine Dion, Wintley Phipps, Fred Hammond, Boney James, Al Jarreau, Will Downing, Take 6, and Patti Austin. He was a performer and arranger for the first-ever John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts “Joyful Sounds” Gospel concert with the National Symphony Orchestra.
This performance is sponsored in part by the generous support of The Gazette & The Star.
The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center is supported by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency dedicated to cultivating a vibrant cultural community where the arts thrive. An agency of the Department of Business & Economic Development, the MSAC provides financial support and technical assistance to nonprofit organizations, units of government, colleges and universities for arts activities. Funding for the Maryland State Arts Council is also provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Learn more about the Clarice Smith Center's donor support.