Gospel legend Yolanda Adams headlines Christmas concert at Kennedy Center

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Yolanda Adams at Kennedy Center (Part 1)

Get ready to ring in the holidays with one of the greatest gospel singers of all time in the nation’s capital.

Yolanda Adams headlines the Christmas concert “Do You Hear What I Hear?” at the Kennedy Center on Tuesday, Dec. 5, presented by the Alfred Street Baptist Church Music and Worship Arts Ministry of Alexandria, Virginia.

“I love the Christmas season,” Adams told WTOP. “Christmas season to me is just one of the most beautiful seasons. It’s about giving, loving, sharing and caring. I have been in relationship with Alfred Street Baptist Church for probably about 35 years now … and I just love the Kennedy Center’s history of empowering musicians.”

The concert features glorious music performed by a 100-voice choir and a full orchestra of 60 instrumentalists, not to mention 30 dancers and actors. Other performers include top contemporary classical and gospel artists.

“[‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’] is definitely on the set list, the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus, ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem,’ ‘[It Came Upon a] Midnight Clear,’ it’s an ode to Christmas,” Adams said. “These songs have been around for centuries. Everyone knows them, so they feel like they’re a part of the total experience because in their minds they’re like, ‘OK, I can sing this with the artist, I can hum this with the orchestra.’ That’s the beauty of Christmas concerts.”

Born in Houston, Texas, in 1961, Adams grew up as the oldest of six kids singing in the choir.

“My parents loved music so much,” Adams said. “We were free to listen to everything in our house from Bach to Beethoven, from bluegrass to B.B. King to Charley Pride, Aretha Franklin, Tramaine Hawkins, James Cleveland, Nat King Cole, The O’Jays, we listened to everybody, James Brown, who I got a chance to honor at the Kennedy Center years ago and I gave him my back story and how my dad loved his music. He was really blown away.”

In 1987, she recorded her first album “Just As I Am” produced by Thomas Whitfield, who saw her choir perform.

“One of the mega producers at that time, Thomas Whitfield, came to our [anniversary] spectacular and I just so happened to sing a song that made him cry,” Adams said. “My mom, my granny and I took him out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants. He was really excited like, ‘Everybody’s been telling me about you.’ … People in New York, Chicago, California had been saying my name over the course of three months to him. … That started everything.”

She went double platinum with her sixth album “Mountain High … Valley Low” (1999), which reached No. 1 on the gospel chart and won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album with songs like “Open My Heart.”

“I got a chance to work with two of my good friends that I had always wanted to work with … Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis,” Adams said. “[Terry] said years before we even got a chance to work together, ‘I’m gonna work with you’ … then Jimmy ran around the room like, ‘No, no, no, we are going to work with her.’ … We were able to take our time with the album and give it the care and nurture that it needed and it came out so phenomenally.”

Other highlights include a Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album for “The Experience” (2001); her platinum album “Believe” with songs like “I’m Gonna Be Ready”; and her album “Day By Day” (2005) winning two more Grammys, including Best Gospel Song for “Be Blessed” and Best Gospel Performance for “Victory.”

For all this, former President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award for Volunteer Service in 2016, just a year before being inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2017.

“It’s so fulfilling because you do what you love to do, you never think, ‘I’m doing this so I can get rewarded,'” Adams said. “I can guarantee you 99.9% of creators, whether they’re musicians, actors, we love the craft, we love our genre, we believe what we’re doing is helping the world, so that’s the biggest thing for us. Then to be awarded and given accolades that you never thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what? Are you serious? Wow, thank you President Obama.'”

In 2018, she earned a Tony Award nomination for writing a song for Broadway’s “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

“We were so proud of our contribution to the ‘SpongeBob’ Broadway musical,” Adams said. “We still to this day get goose bumps and giddy and laugh and just talk about how that call came about. … To see it come from on the page to the rehearsals to the stage to opening night. … I’m doing that again! I’m going to do that again, I don’t know which one, but I’m going to be writing and doing something again for Broadway. … That’s got to happen.”

How about a musical about her own life similar to “Born This Way” about gospel legends BeBe and CeCe Winans?

“I think we’re going to think about that,” Adams said. “You think, ‘Oh, my life is great, but no one wants to hear about my life,’ then at Thanksgiving my siblings were like, ‘Girl, listen, you in the room in the back with all those papers sprawled over the room, that would be really funny in a movie,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, wait a minute.’ … Thank you for putting that little spark in my eye because, yes, I guess we should!”

Until then, she broke a little news on WTOP about what’s coming up next.

“Newsbreak!” Adams said. “You are probably the first person to know this: next year, we have revived the team and we will be coming out with new music from Yolanda Adams, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and a whole lot more.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Yolanda Adams at Kennedy Center (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation on the podcast below:

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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