I discovered this only a few years ago. It simply took my breath away. I am not a huge fan of gospel music or choirs–I often find them overpowering. But this is about as close to perfect a rendition of a Christmas carol as you can get.
Luther Vandross’s voice is spot on. Reverent. Serious. Despite being a song everyone knows, this version makes you feel like you are hearing it for the first time. Listening to it reminds me that artistry does not always mean the ability to create. One does not necessarily need to start from scratch to mold something beautiful and special. Artistry also can mean taking something that exists and redefining it. One can take familiar elements and subtly but nonetheless significantly change them for rediscovery and new appreciation. And isn’t that, in an odd way, much like Christmas itself? We’re all so familiar with it. It’s always the same traditions–carols, cookies, gift exchanges, church services, meals. And yet, every year, there is a new event to consider, new friends and relatives with whom to share, new songs, new decorations. The general traditions are the same, but the ability to innovate each year makes every holiday special and its own unique experience.
This artist, like many of the best of them, passed from this world far too soon. I’ve tried to find out more about Luther’s religious background. He sings this carol with such conviction that it would surprise me to learn that he did not have a strong connection to his faith. Perhaps not. Maybe his conviction wasn’t conviction after all. Maybe, instead, his vocals reflect a subtle desperation–a longing to believe, to possess the self-assurance of the zealot, to never question or doubt, to not require the holiday season to be reminded to focus on that which is good, lovely, holy, sacred, solemn, valuable in the world.
I don’t know. Obviously, I struggle with these issues, and my desperation knows no subtlety. Of one thing I am sure: when I hear Mr. Vandross sing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” I am once again a believer.