Christmastime is chock full of traditions and one of those is “The Colors of Christmas” concert at the Star Plaza Theatre, which brings together some of the world’s greatest R&B vocalists for unique and ear-pleasing deliveries of their respective hits coupled with plenty of seasonal songs about snowmen, reindeer, Santa and the birth of Jesus Christ.
“When you talk about holiday traditions, this tour is one of them for me,” said Peabo Bryson, whose soothing voice has been melting the hearts of women worldwide for years. “I think I have been on just about every “Colors’ show there’s been. I love being on this tour and working with all the wonderful singers.”
Given that this year marks “Colors of Christmas” 20th anniversary, Bryson has clearly logged many miles and years with Stig Edgren of SEG Events, who created the successful national tour package in 1992 and still continues to produce it. Edgren recalled it all started with a single concert to benefit UNICEF and just snowballed. “The response to that first show was so good, we decided to add more dates and we have been touring with it every year since,” he said.
Although in past years, “Colors of Christmas” traveled to as many as 25 cities, this year’s tour has been scaled back to six. The volume of shows may have been trimmed back, but not the show’s quality.
This year’s tour not only includes Bryson, but also husband/wife vocal duo Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., actress/singer Stephanie Mills plus three time Grammy winner and two time Oscar nominee, James Ingram.
“This is my fourth year on the ‘Colors’ tour,” said McCoo, who with her husband of over 40 years, were co-founders of the iconic late 1960s soul-pop group The Fifth Dimension, before breaking away in the early 1970s. “I did two years with ‘Colors of Christmas” by myself, then Billy came out with me last year. We’re both back this year and it’s great to be traveling together and singing these wonderful songs together during the Christmas season. We both love Christmastime and Christmas songs so much, especially those songs about the birth of Jesus.”
McCoo and Davis, both devout Christians and missionaries, shared their secrets of staying happy, committed and in love with each other in their 2004 book, “Up, Up and Away…How We Found Love, Faith and Lasting Marriage in the Entertainment World” (Northfield Publishing), offering personal insight and advice on marriage and life, along with a heaping spoonful of spiritual encouragement. There is also the back story of their fabulous career, which has included a string of hits – “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “Up Up And Away,” “Stoned Soul Picnic,” etc. – with The Fifth Dimension; enjoying radio success as a vocal duo with songs like “You Don’t Have To Be A Star Baby (To Be In My Show),” which aptly led to their co-hosting their own TV variety show on CBS, which opened the door for McCoo to famously host the mega-smash TV dance/music show, “Solid Gold” during the 1980s.
Though most musical artists abhor giving up control, the stars on “Colors Of Christmas” have no problem leaving the repertoire, staging and planning to Edgren. “Stig is in the driver’s seat and we are along for the ride,” chirped McCoo. “Stig produces a great show every year. He knows what he’s doing. This show has a great balance,” agreed Bryson, who grew up admiring and singing along to records by such soulful crooner idols of his youth as Nat King Cole and Sam Cooke.
“I pride myself on picking an interesting combination of Christmas songs, greatest hits, duets, trios…,” said Edgren. “Of course, I run it all past the artists, but usually they defer to my program. As for the music, we generally rehearse for three days before leaving on tour. All the artists on the tour this year have done the show at some time in years past, so they all know the drill.”
Bryson is a self-admitted romantic and a sucker for a great love song, who credits growing up with strong women in his life like his mother, aunt and sisters for enabling him to understand and connect with women as powerfully as he does, not only as a singer but also as a singing partner. Since breaking out in 1991, Bryson’s biggest hits have been duets with the likes of Minnie Riperton, Natalie Cole, Melissa Manchester, Regina Belle, Celine Dion, and Roberta Flack. On this tour Bryson partners up with his female tour mates McCoo and Mills to reprise a few of those classic songs from his catalog, including two Disney film classics he won Grammy Awards for – “A Whole New World (Aladdin’s Theme)” and “Beauty And The Beast.”
“I wouldn’t dare go on stage and not sing those two songs,” he laughed. “This is a fun tour because we all do a few of the big songs the fans love, but you get a lot of great Christmas songs too.” A highlight for Bryson, as well as McCoo and Davis, is when Edgren puts them together with the other performers. “By the end of the show, everyone has sung with everyone else,” said McCoo, including ensemble moments where she, Davis, Bryson, Mills and Ingram harmonize together beautifully.
Bryson recalled his best Christmas memory while growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, was the one when his parents, who ran a boarding house, gave their children handmade and refurbished old toys commissioned from some of the out-of-work craftsmen who boarded with them. “That was a Christmas I will never forget,” said Bryson. “I hope seeing ‘Colors of Christmas’ and hearing some of those old seasonal songs helps stir old memories of family, friends and good times for some of those in the audience. Because those kinds of memories will always keep you warm.”