Christmas music encompasses virtually every genre, but it exists in its own world. Some people don’t consider themselves music fans but love Christmas music. Even people who don’t generally like Christmas music probably have a few standards they don’t mind. People who never give jazz a thought groove to Vince Guaraldi this time of year. The classic songs can conjure evocative memories. Late vocalist Dwight Lenox’s mellow and tasteful takes on classics on his 2002 release This Christmas is a welcome addition to any Christmas collection.
In the mid-'80s, Dwight Lenox’s job as a hair-color consultant with Clairol relocated him from Dallas to Columbus. He put down roots. He started singing again after a 15 year break. He got serious about singing. He took lessons and any gig he could. Eventually, music became his profession and he’d land a gig with the Columbus Jazz Orchestra in the mid-'90s after former CJO leader Ray Eubanks heard Lenox sing at the Bexley Monk. He formed the Lenox Avenue Express big band in the early aughts and gigged extensively with them, the CJO, BalletMet Columbus, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Vaud-Villities, and with his trio and quartet.
Lenox assembled a trio of elite Columbus musicians to record This Christmas in 2002. Dave Powers handled the arrangements and keyboards. Reggie Jackson played the drums and Lee Savory was on trumpet and flugelhorn. The opening title track, Donny Hathaway’s classic This Christmas starts things off with an upbeat feel. The melancholy melody of Guaraldi's Christmas Time Is Here follows. Do Hear What I Hear has a jazzy funk arrangement. Lenox’s stylistic diversity is well represented.
A singer known for communicating to audiences the personal meaning of songs he performed, Lenox says this about Bending Towards The Light from Anne Phillips’ The Jazz Nativity in the liner notes: “I met the (music) writer of this song (saxophonist Bob Kindred), and he told me… it was written during a visit to South America where he met a priest. This priest’s passion was to try and help the homeless children of his country. His efforts finally allowed him to find an area where these children could live in safety and to prosper. With the children he founded a town where the children were put in charge. They govern themselves just like in Boy’s Town. (Anne Phillips’ and Henry Timm’s lyric) is a beautiful account of what was happening at the birthplace of the Christ Child.”
Lenox underwent an operation and treatment for colon cancer in 2001 but didn’t go public with his fight until performing as part of Cancer Survivors Day at Ohio Stadium in 2004. "I didn't even tell my mother in California until the surgery was over and I thought I would be OK," he told The Dispatch at the time. "I decided to speak up so that other people would get the message and get checkups."
Sadly, his cancer returned in early 2016. Although he recovered, it took a toll on Lenox and he succumbed to heart failure on December 15, 2016, at age 71. Lenox’s annual holiday performances were a regular part of Columbus’ culture for many years. While we no longer get to enjoy those, we’re fortunate that he left behind the terrific This Christmas.
Here is what a few of his peers said about Lenox’s voice:
"Only God could put ingredients such as this warm, lush, velvety voice together. He's unlimited -- 2 octaves, easily." - Cheryl Munkascy (co-founder of the Westerville Center for the Arts and former Otterbein College voice instructor)
“From blues to ballads and jazz to swing, Lenox shines. His impeccable instincts and mellow sound have garnered the attention of some of the finest musicians in the industry.” - The Huntington, WV Herald-Dispatch
“Lenox's voice was silky smooth and commanding.” - Gary Budzak (The Columbus Dispatch)
"He was a musician's musician. His voice was spectacular. It was really a gift to listen to him." - Tony Hagood (pianist)
"He was a wonderful singer and communicator. It's like people who can read poetry. Dwight could sing a song and let the song speak through him."- Ray Eubanks (retired director of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra)
2 Christmas Time Is Here
3 Do You Hear What I Hear
4 The Christmas Song
5 The Christmas Waltz
6 Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow
7 Bending Towards The Light
8 Merry Christmas Darling
9 My Favorite Things
10 Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
11 The Most Wonderful Time of The Year
Arranged By – Dave Powers
Drums – Reggie Jackson
Graphic Design – Angelina Poltavets
Keyboards – Dave Powers (5)
Liner Notes – Dwight Lenox
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Lee Savory (tracks: 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10)
Vocals, Producer – Dwight Lenox