By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The three-time Grammy award-winning group Sounds of Blackness is getting ready to celebrate the holiday season.

The Minneapolis-based vocal and musical ensemble is flexing its theatrical muscle by presenting “The Night Before Christmas.”

WCCO caught up with the group at a rehearsal to see what makes this Christmas show so special.

Since 1971, the Sounds of Blackness has given us gospel, R&B, soul and jazz sounds that has taken them to the heights of the music industry

“In addition to our recordings and our live concert performances, we also have been a theatrical group as well,” said music director Gary Hines.

On this day, members of the group are rehearsing for their Christmas tradition, “The Night Before Christmas.” This play is based off one of Hines’s childhood favorites.

“My mom, rest her soul, would read that to us every year, ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas,’” Hines said.

What you’ll see on stage is pretty true to the original poem.

“That was written in 1822 by a Methodist minister named Clement Moore. He wrote it for his family, and it proliferated across the country … and around the world, and gives us most of our modern imagery about who Santa Claus is, reindeer coming down the chimney, elves, all that, is contained in that poem,” Hines said.

Gary Hines (credit: CBS)

But they did take a few liberties.

“What would it be like told from the perspective of African American experience and culture and community,” Hines said.

From rapping, dancing and singing reindeer, to a soulful Santa that can belt out a tune with the best gospel and jazz singers in the land, this production is all about celebrating the true meaning of Christmas.

Director Carrie Harrington says the love for entertaining and for each other shines thru the members on stage. They also want to make sure people in the audience are a part of all the magic.

“The true meaning of Christmas, whether you’re a Christian or not, is about love and togetherness and family and just being together at that time and acknowledging that we love each other,” Harrington said.

It’s a show that has been a staple for this ensemble for the past 41 years.

“It was created by literally, I think, a lot of members in the group kind of added stuff along the years. You know, there was a good skeleton of stuff that was created at first, but then everybody kind of puts their own flavor in, we bring in new things, current topics, so it’s always something, you know, just a little something special each year,” said assistant director and dance captain Ashley Commodore.

It is a tradition they hope to continue to even more years to come.

“The Night Before Christmas” will hit the stage at the Pantages Theatre for one performance on Thursday, December 19. Tickets are still available for the 7:30 p.m. show.

Reg Chapman