Arts

‘Nat King Cole Christmas’ concert showcases beloved Christmas classics in Sandy Springs

Singer and pianist Nat "King" Cole is seen in this undated photograph. (AP Photo)
Singer and pianist Nat "King" Cole is seen in this undated photograph. (AP Photo)

For many music lovers, Christmas isn’t Christmas without Nat “King” Cole. His classic and universally beloved Christmas album was released 75 years ago, and in commemoration of the milestone, Sandy Springs Theatre presents “Nat King Cole Christmas” this weekend. The concert will showcase some of Cole’s greatest hits, performed by an array of accomplished musical artists. Terri Lyne Carrington is a Grammy Award-winning drummer and music director for “Nat King Cole Christmas.” She joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes and Grammy Award-winning vocalist Tony Lindsay, who’ll sing some Cole classics during the show.

The two guests started the conversation singing their praises for the legendary pianist and singer, especially his best-known song to this day, “The Christmas Song.” “I don’t feel like I’m in the Christmas spirit until I hear ‘The Christmas Song’ with Nat King Cole singing it,” said Lindsay. “His voice is just so velvety and buttery, and I don’t know what it is about Nat King Cole’s voice. I never get tired of listening to it.”

Mel Tormé and Robert Wells wrote “The Christmas Song” on a sweltering July day in 1945. The story goes that the songwriters hoped that the tune might cool them off, but as it turned out, the enduring classic they created would bring warmth to listeners every holiday season for generations to come.

“It’s timeless,” said Carrington. “I think they just struck upon the perfect combination of the music and the lyric, also, telling a story that everybody could relate to, being universal. Probably because [Tormé] wrote it in the summer, he was able to really dream about what he wanted, the kind of vibe he wanted for Christmas, which is, I think, why we all love it so much, and it’s so universal.”

Lindsay will perform “The Christmas Song” at Byers Theatre, joined by a whole company of other artists. The show will combine elements of musical performance with storytelling, history, and dance. According to Carrington, Nat King Cole’s Christmas material will make up approximately half the music in the show, with many of his other works from outside the holiday repertoire sharing the spotlight.

“There’s also an amazing jazz quartet that will be playing along with orchestral players so that we’re able to capture some of the original essence of this music,” said Carrington. “The vocalists are also very soulful… so it’s a bit of a potpourri, musically, and also there’ll be some multimedia elements; some slides and videos, and a little history about Nat King Cole, as well. So I think there will be something for everybody.”

Some of the dancing elements will come from Atlanta tap dancer Jared Grimes. A trained dancer since the age of three, Grimes was called a “Showstopper” by Dance Magazine. “Jared Grimes will be tapping as well as singing,” Carrington said. “He’s an amazing artist that does some of everything, as they say, a quadruple threat. He tap dances, he sings, he choreographs, and he acts.”

The show’s creators hope to honor Nat King Cole’s contributions to American history, leaving the audience knowing a little bit more than just his mastery of melody. “People don’t often speak enough about Nat’s commitment to civil rights, and him being in the time period where it was very difficult for a Black artist to be as successful as he was, and on their own terms,” said Carrington. “He was the first to have a TV show, a variety show on television. The first Black person…. He was a trailblazer in more ways than one.”

“Nat King Cole Christmas” takes place at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center’s Byers Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 20. Tickets and more information are available at https://citysprings.com/events/nat-king-cole-christmas.

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