FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Sarah Snyder
College Park, MD – Nolan Williams, Jr. presents his new holiday musical Christmas Gift! at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on December 13 and 14. With music, lyrics and book by American songwriter Williams, Jr., Christmas Gift! centers around 13-year-old Zawadi Wise and her family and explores the themes of love and selfless giving through narrative, poetry, song and dance. The musical also delves into the rich history of Christmas Gift, a forgotten holiday gift exchange tradition in the African American community.
Since its premiere at the Center last year in December 2012, Christmas Gift! has evolved into a full-scale entertaining and inspiring musical that reflects African American culture and spirituality. Williams, Jr. says, “I like to refer to this production as a ‘musical in the making!’ 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.”
The Origins of Christmas Gift!
Christmas Gift is a Christmas-day greeting game tradition that dates back to the mid-19th century. When people encountered each other on Christmas Day, they would greet each other by shouting “Christmas gif’!” The person who could shout the greeting first received a gift — usually a handmade or home-baked treat — from the other person. In the spirit of this tradition, the musical conveys many themes of love: the gift of divine love that came to earth, the gift of familial love shared between relatives and friends, the gift of unconditional love expressed to strangers through random acts of kindness, and the gift of humanitarian love that fosters inter-communal understanding and racial reconciliation.
Williams was first inspired by Charlemae Rollins’s anthology, Christmas Gif’: An Anthology of Christmas Poems, Songs, and Stories — a book gifted to Williams by his late mentor Steven Newsome — to create this production especially for the Clarice Smith Center Performing Arts Center stage. As a librarian, Rollins was frequently 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.
About Nolan Williams, Jr.
Nolan Williams, Jr. is an American songwriter whose repertoire includes several commissioned choral works by Georgetown University; premiered works with the National Symphony, Charleston Symphony and Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestras; song contributions to Grammy-nominated gospel and R&B recording projects; and music for television and film. As a musicologist, he has been featured on PBS, BET and the WORD network; lectured before the American Academy of Religion, Festival Musicá y Filosofia (Naples, Italy), and at numerous American universities — including Yale, Dartmouth, Oberlin and Howard; and edited two hymnals including the bestselling African American Heritage Hymnal — over 500,000 copies sold worldwide — and Total Praise. As a producer (through NEWorks Productions), he has conceived and contributed to numerous inspirational arts productions, including: Reflections on Peace: From Gandhi to King, a global concert of peace staged on the National Mall in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington (2013); A Mighty Stream, a celebration of the American freedom movement through music, video and spoken word premiered with the National Symphony Orchestra (2012); Partnering for Life, a benefit concert tour produced in partnership with the American Cancer Society (2011-12); and Joyful Sounds: Gospel Across America, a nine-day festival presented by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts celebrating gospel and other sacred music traditions (2010).
Williams is a member of the Kennedy Center’s Community Advisory Board, a voting member of the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (‘The Grammies’) and CEO of NEWorks Productions.
Located on the University of Maryland campus and a part of the College of Arts and Humanities, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center is a premier presenting arts venue and collaborative laboratory shared by the School of Music (SOM), the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) and the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library. The Center made its debut in 2001 and has grown into a national model for campus performing arts centers, presenting performances and programs by visiting artists as well as by students and faculty of SOM and TDPS in an environment of creative learning, exploration and growth. The Center remains active in the larger university community through its innovative partnerships and extraordinary experiences.
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.
This performance is sponsored in part by the generous support of The Gazette & The Star.