REVIEW: Various Artists–“Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration”

Handel's Messiah A Soulful Celebration coverPerhaps no Christmas project could more appropriately wear the term “iconic” than the star-studded release titled Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration. Originally released in 1992, this Grammy Award winning project was produced by music legends Quincy Jones and Mervyn Warren (of Take 6 fame) and featured an incredibly skilled list of urban artists that defined the best in the genres of gospel, R&B, jazz, and hip-hop.

Sixteen tracks strong, this project was designed to bring the historically rich Handel’s Messiah into a modern context. Rich in presentation, this project features dream collaborations that were amazing during their original release and hold even more weight currently. For instance, this is one of the only places where two of gospel music’s most influential groups have recorded together, as Commissioned and The Clark Sisters team up for a smooth and soothing presentation of “Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates”. Yes…that means Fred Hammond, Marvin Sapp, Mitchell Jones, Karl Reid, Karen Clark Sheard, Dorinda Clark-Cold, Twinkie Clark, and Jacky Clark-Chisholm all on one track!! The incredible collaborations continue as legends Daryl Coley and Vanessa Bell Armstrong connect on “Comfort Ye My People”.

Jazz legend Al Jarreau’s presentation of “Why Do The Nations So Furiously Rage?” is one for the ages and will keep both your foot tapping and your head nodding. The ever popular instrumentalists The Yellowjackets are featured on “Behold The Lamb of God”, while fellow jazz legend Dianne Reeves is featured on “And The Glory Of The Lord”.

The diversity of this project is to unquestionably be celebrated as Leaders of The New School (featuring Busta Rhymes) team with Michelle Weeks, and The Boys Choir of Harlem on the uptempo “Glory To God”. Complete with that 9o’s feel, the genius of this arrangement cannot be ignored. Another equally fun track features Lizz Lee, Chris Willis, and Mike E. on “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted”. This one is still ready for a skating party or a good holiday treadmill run.

Who can forget a young Tevin Campbell’s powerful presentation of “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” or the collaboration between Stevie Wonder & Take 6 on “O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion”? Equally impressive is “And He Shall Purify”, which features the powerful vocal delivery of gospel music legend Tramaine Hawkins.

However, the project is best known for the single “Hallelujah”. Much like its 80’s predecessor “We Are The World”, Quincy Jones pulls together an all-star choir that features Andrae & Sandra Crouch, Clifton Davis, Take 6, Sounds of Blackness, Kim Fields, Edwin Hawkins, Chaka Khan, Phylicia Rashad, Gladys Knight, Thomas Whitfield, Michael Jackson, and more, with adlibs from Daryl Coley!

No wonder this amazing effort won a Grammy Award! Some twenty years later, it stands alone as the measuring stick for Christmas projects. Needless to say, this is a must-have in your Christmas collection!

Various Artists: Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration
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