When it was first suggested to Fantasia that she record a jazz-flavored Christmas album, the R&B singer was worried her fans wouldn’t get it.
But upon stepping into the studio to start recording it, she had the kind of epiphany perhaps only a mother could have:
“I have a son, who’s soon to be 6, in December,” said Fantasia, 33, who also has a 16-year-old daughter. “He hates certain foods. He won’t eat it if it doesn’t smell good to him. He says, ‘Ugh, Mommy, it smells bad. I don’t like it. I don’t want it.’ But what I realized is, if I go in, and I fix the plate, use certain seasonings, and I make the plate look good, he’ll eat it.
“I said that to say this: When it comes to my fans, if it’s good, they’ll eat it. If it’s good, they’ll want it. If it’s seasoned good – meaning if the band is playing great, the horns are hitting the right licks, the vocals are just falling right where they need to fall – they’ll eat it. And so that’s when the fear went away.”
The result? Her first-ever holiday album, “Christmas After Midnight,” which dropped on Oct. 6 and will bring her to Ovens Auditorium on Dec. 8. (The show is a homecoming of sorts, since Fantasia has lived in Charlotte since moving here after winning “American Idol” in 2004 at age 19. She is married to businessman Kendall Taylor.)
Songs on the album and in the concert include the Grammy-winning High Point native’s soulful takes on classics like James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” Frank Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which she recorded with CeeLo Green.
In title, “Christmas After Midnight” is a nod to Fantasia’s three-month-long star turn in Broadway’s “After Midnight” in 2013-14; the show’s musical director was jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and songs included jazz pieces by Duke Ellington, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh.
In a recent interview with the Observer, though, Fantasia said that while coming up with the track list and recording the album (at Los Angeles’ iconic Capitol Studios and Nashville’s famed Blackbird Studios), she was thinking more about her family than about Broadway.
“I dedicated this album to my grandma, who’s gone home to be with the Lord,” Fantasia said of her late grandmother Addie Collins, who died of a heart attack in April 2015 at age 74. “Her birthday is on Christmas, and she made Christmas amazing. So I got very emotional at times (while recording the album), because I could only think of my grandmother and how she used to do things.
“She would always put on a Christmas album. For us it was either the Mariah Carey album, or the Boyz II Men, or Temptations, or Donnie Hathaway. And when the music went on, we knew what came next was putting up the Christmas tree. When the Christmas tree went up, we knew what came next: We’ve gotta decorate the fireplace. Alright, after we decorate it, my grandmother wanted to see the fireplace come on. Alright, now let’s start cooking. Let’s start baking some cookies. Let’s do this, let’s do that. Bringing families together. ...
“Back then, we had our grandmothers and our grandfathers who kind of held the family together. They were the glue to the family. They were the big piece of the puzzle. And it seems like when they go home to be with the Lord, everybody starts to trickle away, and everybody starts to do their own thing, or this family member’s beefing with this family member, and such and such is not talking anymore. And that’s not the way God planned it. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
“So with this album, I just kept thinking, ‘I want to bring that back. I want to continue showing what my grandmother showed me, which was love. ... Keep it going. Keep the love going. Show ’em what Grandma taught you.’ ”
‘Fantasia Christmas After Midnight’
Ovens Auditorium will host the tour at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 8. Tickets ($59.50-$79.50, plus applicable service charges) are available at Ticketmaster.com, by phone at 800-745-3000, at all Ticketmaster outlets or at the Bojangles’ Coliseum Box Office located at 2700 E. Independence Blvd.