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Jubilation is a Grammy®-winning, culturally mixed community choir based in Newark, NJ. The group is committed to singing African American sacred music with an emphasis on Gospel. Jubilation's creative director, The Reverend Stefanie R. Minatee ("Rev. Stef"), is a critically acclaimed composer and arranger who has written and arranged music for Ray Charles, Dorothy Norwood, The Savannah Community Choir and others. The choir has shared the stage with Isaac Hayes, Michael Bolton, Darlene Love, Shirley Caesar, Walter Hawkins, Cissy Houston, Donnie McClurkin, Kurt Carr, Tremaine Hawkins and many more, seeking to be ambassadors for Christ in every opportunity of ministry.

For me, there was a heavy sigh of relief

at the first notes of A Jubilation Christmas. This, as was the ambitious Launch Out Project, is music for grown-ups. I have reluctantly accepted the fact that I am, in fact, a grown-up and therefore increasingly harder to musically satisfy as the years rack up behind me. I have, in fact, stopped listening to new Gospel releases altogether as far too much of it sounds like bad rip-offs of better commercial music or, worse, bad rip-offs of better Gospel music I already own. The trend seems to be to mimic the “worldly” hippity-hoppity booty-shaking mess, a practice many Christian musicians misguidedly believe is some sort of victory over Satan; as though publishing Christian pornography would somehow glorify God. Secular music has become so unimaginably gross and so terribly destructive, most especially to minority youth, that echoing that sound in any way suggests the “Christian” artist has immersed himself in it--cussing, drug use, misogyny and all--sufficiently to be able to credibly replicate that sound “in the name of Jesus.” Which suggests it's all right for Christian youth to listen to Lil’ Wayne, whose disgusting, violent and pornographic “art” blasphemes God in every imaginable way. Propagating the sound, even with “Christian” rap, glorifies the sound and, worse, validates the heinous filth far too many misguided Christian parents are allowing into the lives of their children. Such parents are idiots. Such Christian artists are either idiots or liars, claiming Christ but just out to make a buck. Either way, no thanks.

The other sadly notable trend in Gospel music is to stop making Gospel music. Black Gospel artists are increasingly following Kurt Carr and Israel Houghton’s lead and putting out Contemporary Christian music, or CCM, pandering not to the street filth of hip-hop but to the white shoes of Evangelicals. I can hardly blame them. There is huge money to be made off of the white folk, and, to my experience, black Church Folk think absolutely nothing of pumping out copies of CDs for their friends or downloading bootlegs of feature films and burning DVDs for everybody. I have, to date, not once heard a black pastor preach against this practice. I have absolutely no empirical data to back my suspicion, but this is it: I believe white Christians buy more music than black Christians, who burn CDRs for one another, download it from illegal sites or find other end-arounds to actually purchasing a CD. There is, therefore, way more money for Kurt Carr over there with the white folk than among his own, so why not abandon the classic blues-jazz that is uniquely our own to make more banjo music?

The Reverend Dr. Stefanie R. Minatee takes no such shortcuts on A Jubilation Christmas. Thank God. No hippity-hoppity, no pretenses to not being what they are: a Gospel choir in the traditional African American mold. Dr. Minatee and friends don’t insult my intelligence while seeking to minister during the most over-hyped and commercialized season of the year.

Rev. C. Priest:  Why A Christmas album? Do Christmas records sell anymore?

Rev. Dr. Stefanie R. Minatee: This Christmas CD was a long time coming. Each year patrons ask us if we have a CD of the music we sing for the holidays and for a long time we had to say no. This year is different and the CD was recorded because of popular demand. Because so many have asked for it, I believe it will do well.

What is Rev. Stef’s Christmas like? Is Christmas still magic for you?

I LOVE Christmas!! Most of my family is gone now and I miss them sooo much, but I love Christmas and look forward to celebrating. The joy of it all and bringing smiles to the faces of people is exciting to me!

This is an independent release, with what appears to be a group of investors listed as executive producers. What’s the story behind that? Would it have been simpler to work with a label? What are the benefits of raising the capital to work independently?

Although we have relationship with Habakkuk records, we decided to do this independently. Because of social media, there is a great opportunity for independent artists. We are BLESSED with friends (old and new) who love our ministry and wanted to sow into the project. It was all God-ordained and I am grateful.

Is the strategy behind A Jubilation Christmas to cross over to mainstream charts? Should we think of this as a worship album or a secular holiday album or both? Can it be both?

No, definitely not! This CD is a holiday project and there is worship on the tracks. Some of the songs may cross over, but it was not done by design.

Can you share a little about the recording process? When was this recorded? Was it mostly fun or mostly work? You seem to still have a great deal of joy about the creative process.

We started the process this past summer. It was strange working on Christmas music in May, but I enjoyed every moment and worked hard to make sure we were presenting our best. There are always things I wish I could have done better, but for the most part I think we have something we can be proud of.

I love your writing. Why the choice to include mostly covers of traditional Christmas songs rather than develop originals?

In my opinion, folks love to hear the traditional carols during the holidays. I’m a traditionalist and at Christmas I want to hear Christmas music I am familiar with.

Okay, let’s get right to it: Why Rudolph? Seriously: many Christians will not appreciate the inclusion of Santa and so forth. Why this choice?

Here’s the story behind Rudolph: We had the opportunity to record with the late great Ray Charles some years back. In fact, we were the last choir to record with him before he passed away. We accompanied him on Rudolph during that session and I fell in love with the arrangement. I think it’s one of the best arrangements of the song I’ve ever heard, so I wanted to do it on our project. I also wanted to pay tribute to Ray Charles, so we recorded it in his memory. I miss Ray very much and working with him was an experience I will never forget!