“My litmus test for music is always my 3-year-old daughter—does she want to hear a song again, does it make her dance around the living room?” says Leslie Odom Jr. (leslieodomjr.com). The Philadelphia-bred actor and singer, whose original performance as Aaron Burr in the Broadway blockbuster Hamilton earned him a Tony and Grammy award, was working on original music for his second holiday album and wanted feedback on a few songs. The feel-good number “Snow” not only made the cut with daughter Lucille Ruby but is the first track on The Christmas Album, out Nov. 6.
Another holiday album wasn’t part of Odom Jr.’s plan in 2020. He had just put out Mr last November and was preparing to go on tour when the pandemic hit. After three months at home, he couldn’t help thinking that people would need help getting into the holiday spirit for a season unlike any other. The Christmas Album does just that courtesy of classic covers like “O Holy Night” and “Auld Lang Syne “and duets with Cynthia Erivo, Mzansi Youth Choir and Nicolette Robinson, Odom Jr.’s wife.
As he awaits the December release of One Night in Miami, in which Odom Jr. stars as Sam Cooke in the directorial film debut from Regina King, the East Oak Lane native recalls that his first professional job was in Philly, in New Freedom Theatre’s Black Nativity: An African Holiday Musical Play. That “surreal” experience is one he’s especially grateful for this year. “I think the pandemic has served to make us more present; we don’t know what the future holds. You have to savor and hold on to every bit of joy that you have in this moment because it was a gift.”