My personal belief is that Scrooge had it right, muttering “Bah, humbug.” But I have to admit the Steeles‘ 25th Anniversary Christmas Concert at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul spread a strong helping of soulful cheer. They had the whole place, full to the rafters, rocking with warmhearted glee.
The Steeles may have started out in Gary, Indiana, part of the same music scene that spawned the Jackson Five and Deniece Williams. But the Steeles moved to Minneapolis and are ours now, the Twin Cities’ own first family of song.
If you didn’t catch Jevetta, J.D., Fred, Jearlyn and Billy Steele at the Fitzgerald Theater last weekend, perhaps you were thinking, “Well, I’d love to go but I’ve got too much to do this year and will just have to catch them next Christmas.” In that case, you missed the boat, because they’ve chosen the 25th anniversary as a fitting time to take a break from doing the annual holiday show. For at least the next three winters, the Steeles will be staging other productions. They also, as was announced to the delight of the closing night crowd, will revive their Broadway hit Gospel at Colonus.
Matriarch of the family, one profoundly esteemed Sally Elizabeth Birdsong, stepped onstage to a hearty ovation: before she introduced herself, just about everyone in the audience recognized her. She looked great, wore a beaming smile and got the night started off on just the right foot, one of family warmth.
Her children kept it going with upbeat renditions of classic carols and a handful of spirited originals from the Steeles’ Christmas albums. They didn’t just air golden throats. There was calypso jump-up choreography, a taste of the Temptations’ walk and hip-switching, smart-stepping moves unique to the Steeles. If you couldn’t dance a lick, you could still feel it.
All the Steeles are wonderful vocalists, but, face it, fans have their favorites. Mines is Jevetta and J.D., both of whom did beautiful turns, soaring on strong melodies, airing exquisite pipes with flawless phrasing, shading their notes superbly. Jearlyn also made one fella’s night infinitely memorable. Jevetta called up to the stage for a dance number an audience member, Charles his name was, and had to keep stepping between him and Jearlyn—who readily revealed to all on-hand that bald men make her weak in the knees. A special appearance was put in by Janice Steele, yet another singing sibling, making it the first time in ages all six of the Steeles performed in one place.
When they came back from the intermission, everybody’s kids got in on the act, including 12 year-olds Jasmine Dickerson (Jevetta’s daughter) and Jordan Arrit (Fred’s son) with a priceless, comic take on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. At one point, Jevetta turned the auditorium into the Steele’s living room, having this and that one stand up in the audience and take a bow. There may’ve been as many Steele family members in the house as there were in the production. God bless a big family.
By the time it was all done, you were treated to a winning combination of well-seasoned professionalism fueling a down-to-earth git-down. At least you were, if you went. If not, all I can say is: don’t sleep on it next time.