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‘A simpler time’: Star lineup will perform Ella Fitzgerald’s 1960 Christmas album in concert

Host Vanessa Williams performs “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” (Kevin Parisi/American Pops Orchestra Inc.)

Luke S. Frazier continues to be captivated by the music of Ella Fitzgerald.

That’s why the American Pops Orchestra music director and conductor wanted to put on the show “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas with Vanessa Williams.”

The hourlong performance will broadcast at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15, on New Mexico PBS. It will air again on Thursday, Dec. 17, and Friday, Dec. 18.

“Ella is that linchpin for people,” Frazier says. “They will know a few songs of hers, but when you look at her entire body of work, you’ll know more than you thought you did.”

Luke S. Frazier

Frazier wanted to build a performance honoring Fitzgerald’s 1960 holiday album, “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas.”

He enlisted Vanessa Williams to host the concert, in which the album is performed in its entirety.

One of the most celebrated holiday albums of all time, it featured classic American songs of the season, including “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “The Christmas Song,” “Sleigh Ride” and “Winter Wonderland.”

Filmed in front of a small, socially-distanced live audience under strict COVID-19 mitigation procedures at the Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C., “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas With Vanessa Williams” features performances by Grammy and Tony Award-winner Dee Dee Bridgewater (joining APO from New Orleans); Broadway and jazz vocalist Carmen Ruby Floyd; Broadway star and recording artist Morgan James; Grammy and Tony Award nominee Norm Lewis; and celebrated recording artist Nova Y. Payton.

The program also features performances by its host, the multi-Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award nominee Williams.

From left, Maestro Luke S. Frazier and the American Pops Orchestra, Vanessa Williams, Nova Y. Payton in a scene from “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas with Vanessa Williams.” (Courtesy of Kevin Parisi/American Pops Orchestra, Inc.)

All performers are joined by the American Pops Orchestra under the baton of Frazier.

“Every year, I’m sketching out the season, and I like to pick big, iconic singer-songwriters with a Broadway theme.”

APO was founded in 2015 with a mission to build community through the preservation, promotion and re-imagination of American popular music.

Frazier says that through live and virtual performances, educational initiatives and collaborations, APO makes the highest-quality art accessible to the broadest audiences.

Frazier created the American Pops Orchestra with the intent of breaking the mold of the traditional pops orchestra.

Carmen Ruby Floyd performs “White Christmas.” (Courtesy of Kevin Parisi/American Pops Orchestra, Inc.)

He says that through nontraditional orchestral settings, APO aims to deliver popular American classics to those who already know and love them, while also introducing these timeless pieces to younger generations in approachable settings.

Before the pandemic halted live performances, Frazier had reached out to the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation to collaborate with a performance.

“To me, it feels more important than ever that we embrace the things that take us back to a simpler time – a time of celebrating the holidays with a sense of nostalgia,” Frazier says. “This extraordinary holiday album has been the soundtrack for so many of us for more than four decades. To share Ella’s iconic music interpreted by a new generation of extraordinary singers is a gift to us all.”

Frazier began by arranging the songs differently and bringing in a lineup of extraordinary performers.

“We are honoring Ella by doing her music,” he says. “Each performer is making it their own. I was along for the ride.”

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