‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Carol: Unwrapping the Magic of the Annual Christmas Carol Concert

Gospel singer Erica Campbell and The Spelman College Glee Club performing together at the 97th Annual Spelman-Morehouse Christmas Carol Concert.
Gospel singer Erica Campbell and The Spelman College Glee Club performing together at the 97th Annual Spelman-Morehouse Christmas Carol Concert.
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Christmas Carol: An annual Christmas-themed performance by Spelman and Morehouse’s Glee Club that celebrates the holiday season. For nearly a century, these glee clubs have used their music to bless the ears and hearts of the Atlanta community, drawing a larger audience every year they perform. This year, join them as they have their 97th Annual Christmas Carol Concert on the first through third of December and as members share a behind-the-scenes story surrounding their experience leading up to the long-awaited event. 

I recall attending the Christmas Carol Concert last year to support my sister, as she’s a member of the Spelman Glee Club (SCGC). With a queued line scaling to the back of the Science Center, before even seeing the glee clubs perform, I became aware of the fact that this was a performance people longed to see. People were dressed up, their faces adorned with excitement, knowing that once Sister’s Chapel’s doors opened, they were in for a holiday treat. Throughout the concert, one views the artistry that is glee as both glee clubs perform together and individually with songs ranging from traditional carols to contemporary interpretations of holiday music and various other songs. After every song performed, I found myself emotionally in awe of the sheer talent enveloped in this sacred space. 

My experience isn’t singular. As junior Madi Brown and freshman Kennedy Rogers point out, Christmas Carol impacts the Atlanta community and beyond because music is a unifier. Even if you aren’t Christian, you can enjoy Christmas Carol because music, caroling, and company bring people together. The holidays can be emotional for some, so the fact that people come in from all over, with some not even having any affiliation with Spelman or Morehouse College, truly showcases how much people look forward to Christmas Carol. As an event, it was established with a legacy of union, with sophomore Ariana Swindell pointing out how, despite being held during a time of deep segregation and Jim Crow, the first Christmas Carol in 1927 was performed in front of an integrated audience. It was marked as a special and progressive occasion where everyone could celebrate together in spite of times of social unrest. The same is applicable today as, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time filled with uncertainties, the Christmas Carol legacy was sustained virtually as students gathered on Zoom. The tradition prevailed, offering a sense of unity and anticipation to people who knew that on the first Saturday of December, they could watch Christmas Carol.

The legacy of Christmas Carol can be equated with joy that’s felt the instant one steps into King’s or Sister’s Chapel. Curious to know about the behind-the-scenes of the Christmas Carol experience, I interviewed several members of SCGC, with the first question being: When you think of Christmas Carol, what do you think of? Many responded with a sentiment of joy, with Freshman Jordyn O’Neal commenting, “It just feels so happy. Christmas is a happy time, and Christmas Carol looks like everyone is having fun, and they all look amazing”. Freshman Aislinn Haugabrook echoes similar sentiments, as in recalling Christmas Carol as her first introduction to SCGC in high school, the event signifies “pure joy and magic.” “SCGC’s motto is to amaze and inspire, so that’s what we’re doing, and that’s the goal we’re working towards. When I think about the ambiance, the performers, and the audience, it’s all that comes out of it. The experience that everyone is having is pure magic and joy”. For others, Christmas Carol means Sisters Chapel. “It’s magical,” says junior Corinne Adams, “and surreal when you’re performing,” added Madi Brown. From the ambiance to the decorations, Sisters Chapel carries a beauty from which every seat in the chapel can appreciate the performance.

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During the concert, SCGC performed audience favorites of “Children Go Where I Send Thee” and “We Are Christmas;” When asked what their favorite Christmas Carol song to perform was, many members of SCGC mentioned these two staple songs. With this being his 25th year directing the Christmas Carol, Dr. Johnson personally wrote “We Are Christmas” alongside Spelman alumna Sarah Benibo (Class of 2007), mentioning that it was his favorite Christmas Carol song that’s always included in the repertoire. Performing the song at the 96th Annual Christmas Carol Concert, Corinne Adams says that she enjoyed “letting the music move through her” in a way that she admired from people who sang the song in prior years. This year, “We Are Christmas” was sung by special guest and Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Erica Campbell, who delivered an unforgettable performance alongside her daughter Krista Campbell, a member of SCGC. The SCGC community was excited about her presence in light of their Road to 100, as the SCGC will be 100 years old in 2024. For Jordyn O’Neal, SCGC’s upcoming milestone signifies the celebration of nearly “100 years of coral excellence.” Aislinn Haugabrook shares such sentiments, as she feels the Road to 100 is a testament to how the “richness of what glee is, and what it means to the community” has grown. It also highlights the gravity of SCGC and how they hold an admirable legacy where they’re still “excellent Black women singing,” adds Kendall Johnson (Class of 2027)

When attending Christmas Carol, I was mesmerized by both glee clubs’ sheer beauty and talent. Sitting next to Golden Girl Mary Forbes when I attended the show in Sister’s Chapel, we conversed about how captivated we were the entire night. One of her favorite songs was “Silent Night,” commenting on how she enjoyed Dr. Johnson’s changes in his arrangement of the piece. A song I adored was “In Silent Night,” composed by Mitchell B. Southall. I was captured by the emotive beauty and flow of the piece, which brought me to tears when it was performed. The effortlessness displayed by both Morehouse and Spelman’s Glee Club can be heavily attributed to the work that happens behind the scenes. Beginning preparation for Christmas Carol a little before October, common sentiments felt amongst members of SCGC leading up to the performances were long nights, strenuous workload, and stress. With base preparation consisting of memorizing music: 6 songs being performed by SCGC and ten songs for the mixed performance between the Spelman and Morehouse Glee Clubs, along with knowing the dances for the songs, a lot of work is involved to ensure Christmas Carol lives us to the standard it’s sustained for now 97 years. SCGC’s motto, “to amaze and inspire,” plays a crucial role in this, as from their “glee face” to the members having to be in sync when they dance or hit the right notes in the queue, everyone involved is aware of the weight of the excellence that Christmas Carol must hold. “However, we’re Spelman College Glee Club, so we’ll always live up to the excellence,” remarks Kennedy Rogers.

Bittersweet is a word graduating senior Elycia Woodham used to describe her emotional state in light of Christmas Carol. Being her last year, she spoke of the sadness she felt leaving a club she’d been involved in since coming to Spelman. Now, being a section leader and student conductor, she looks back on her Glee experience and recalls how unprecedented it was. “We started on Zoom, and now we’re here,” she states. From performing online during the COVID-19 pandemic to performing in Sister’s Chapel with no audience to now being able to perform in front of an audience for the second year in a row, Elycia commented on her perpetual sadness, accompanied by how proud she was to be able to “continue the legacy (of SCGC) that’s been upheld for the past years.”

The legacy of SCGC can be exhibited in Christmas Carol. Members of the club work hard because they know there’s a standard that must be fulfilled. That’s why people rave about Christmas Carol and pack out the chapels nearly every performance: they look forward to being in a space where they can connect, share, and bond over the love of the holidays. It’s about “just loving Black people,” mentions Elycia Woodham, and the admirable work of everyone involved pays off when members are “on stage and (see) people’s faces light up, and them shedding tears, watching them be moved by the music,” added Corinne Adams. People in the audience could’ve been anywhere, but they chose to come and see Morehouse and Spelman’s Glee Club perform, and that’s important. 

A HUGE round of applause to everyone involved in the performance and execution of The 97th Annual Christmas Carol Concert. Morehouse and Spelman Glee, you never cease to amaze me, and it’s always a pleasure to see you perform. 

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  • T

    Tim MunsonDec 18, 2023 at 5:41 pm

    Tremendous article that was well thought out and done with feelings. We’re very proud grandparents whose granddaughter, Nyomi, is on the Spelman Glee Club and, also Kennedi, the author of this great written piece.

  • R

    Roxanne MunsonDec 18, 2023 at 5:33 pm

    Well done Kennedi!!