“I want you to keep in mind as you think about her resume and all that she’s done, that this young lady is only 15 years old,” St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus director Kevin McBeth told the crowd at Powell Hall on Thursday as he introduced the 2019 guest soloist Kennedy Holmes.
She received an ovation before she emerged on stage. It was the second of an expanded two-night performance of their annual “A Gospel Christmas” holiday concert. And now among the esteemed roster of previous headliners that have included music legends, is a hometown voice that many consider to be a legend in the making after her fourth-place finish on NBC’s “The Voice” last year. And the 9th grader from John Burroughs gave a performance that will be remembered among the great ones. Somehow between semester finals and a winter bug that landed her in urgent care just before the shows, Holmes delivered a stellar showing that proved the hype surrounding her since “The Voice” is well warranted. She had some amazing clutch players in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, McBeth and his IN UNISON Chorus – and featured soloists. The combination made for a well-rounded Christmas concert that added flavor to some classics, while giving a purist approach in a night that illustrated black church music’s influence in celebrating the season.
Ahead of Holmes portion of the show, IN UNISON and the St. Louis Symphony set the bar high with a crop of songs that demonstrated the cross-cultural musical expression of the Christmas spirit.
The music started with John Wasson’s orchestral medley entitled “Festival Fanfare for Christmas.” “Festival Sanctus,” kicked off the choral element of the show. IN UNISON then continued with “Ain’t That Good News” and “Hold Out Your Light” as homage to the Negro Spiritual.
In somewhat of a break from traditional programming, IN UNISON paid homage to the African influence of South America with “To the Mothers In Brazil: Salve Regina.” The drumming syncopated with the voices made for a sound not typically heard as part of the “A Gospel Christmas” programming. The same could be said about the “island vibe” arrangement of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
Kennedy Holmes came on stage about six songs into the performance and was met with yet another ovation. She was downright stunning in her floor length black gown and displayed very little hints of the cold that would have impacted the performance of a lesser trained talent. A smooth, elegant rendition of the standard “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was balanced by “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” the upbeat pop culture classic by Mariah Carey.
The arrangements were phenomenal as were the solo performances of the choir, particularly Montel Moore’s incredible tenor vocals for the adult contemporary spin on “Silent Night, Holy Night.”
Holmes returned to the stage, this time in an equally gorgeous gold floor-length gown, with a performance of “Mary, Did You Know” and Adam Maness brilliantly arranged “O Holy Night.”
“She’s ours – she belongs to us,” McBeth said of Holmes ahead of the performance. It was a sentiment the audience never seemed to forget, from the first selection – until she sang them out the door with her “Joy to the World” encore.
There have been some amazing legends to take the stage as featured celebrity headliners for “A Gospel Christmas” over the years.
But Wednesday and Thursday were a first, in that audiences were given a glimpse of the artists’ greatness on the front end of her ascension – and that the city could fully claim her as a daughter of St. Louis while witnessing her potential.