If it’s December, it’s Christmas time. And if it’s Christmas time, it’s time for The Steele Family Christmas Show: “This Must be Christmas” presented by the Central Lakes College (CLC) Theatre’s Cultural Arts Series.
The family-oriented show will perform at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21 in the Chalberg Theatre on the Brainerd campus.
Making their fifth appearance on the CLC stage, The Steeles continue a tradition that began with a solo appearance by Jearlyn Steele. “Minnesota Public Radio was sponsoring a tour featuring Jearlyn and her brother Billy,” recalled Cultural Arts Series Producer Patrick Spradlin. “I was lucky to find a spot in the season to present the show. Chatting with Jearlyn afterwards, I asked if she would be willing to come back again sometime. ‘Sure,’ she said, ‘and why don’t I just bring my whole family?’”
What resulted was the continuation of a show The Steeles had been performing in the Twin Cities for more than 25 years, in venues like the Fitzgerald and Ordway theaters. When the family decided to discontinue their performances in the cities, they booked several outstate venues instead.
“We’ve become their new favorite place to perform,” said Spradlin. “And that’s saying a lot, considering where they’ve performed.”
Those locations include not only the Twin Cities, but venues such as Carnegie Hall, Broadway, National Public Radio’s Prairie Home Companion Show, theatres across the U.S. and in France, Germany, Japan and the U.K. The multi-talented family, originally from Gary, Indiana, has carved out a unique niche in American music. They’ve recorded with Prince, Donald Fagen, Morgan Freeman, George Clinton, Kim Carnes, the Blind Boys of Alabama, James Cleveland, Mahalia Jackson and many other luminaries in music.
Each member of the group has an impressive resume. Combined, the family is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
Jearlyn is known for her numerous appearances on Prairie Home Companion, and for her weekly radio show on WCCO-AM, “Steele Talkin.’” She is joined onstage by her sister Jevetta, an accomplished singer and actress who’s appeared in numerous productions for Penumbra and the Guthrie, and who earned an Oscar nomination for her music in the film “Baghdad Cafe.” Brother J.D. has worked with virtually every big name in Minnesota music, including Prince and Soul Asylum. As a choral director, J.D. has become known as a driving force in choir composition and performance, directing choirs for the Broadway production of “The Gospel at Colonus” with Morgan Freeman, and sponsoring a yearly American tour of African children’s choirs. Fred Steele has enjoyed an immensely successful career as a recording artist, with several CDs released for the Lifescapes label featured at Target. His first, “Gospel” is Lifescapes’ biggest seller to date. He has been featured in various radio and television commercials for companies like Levi’s and Wilson Leather, has toured the world with various artists, and appeared in musical productions at Twin Cities theatres such as the Chanhassen. Billy is the youngest of the siblings, but is no less successful. He is constantly traveling with the Grammy Award winning Sounds of Blackness, currently serving as the group’s assistant director. His voice has been featured on sound tracks with artists such as Rod Stewart, Luther Vandross and many others, and he worked on the sound track for the Disney feature “John Henry.”
The Steele Family’s show “This Must be Christmas” is filled with traditional Christmas songs presented with the family’s unique blend of gospel, soul, and blues. The family includes the audience in the singing of some songs, has special features that invite audience participation, and generally delivers a high energy traditional Christmas show.
“This is one of the most enjoyable events I can include in the season,” said Spradlin. “For me, it’s what kicks off the holiday spirit.”
Tickets are $27 and $30 and are available from the CLC Theatre Box Office at 855-8199. Tickets can also be purchased online at www.clcmn.edu/arts.