If enjoying thoughtful, heartwarming films is on your holiday to-do list, there’s a brand-new St. Louis-made musical well worth your time. “A New Holiday” tells the story of 10-year-old Thelma as she grapples with the loss of her grandmother and looks toward a different kind of Christmas — themes that resonate especially in 2020.
Soul singer Brian Owens directed and co-wrote the 33-minute film, which features an all-Black and almost entirely St. Louis-based cast. Mount Vernon’s Steven R. Jones is the Director of Production and Staging. This is Jones’ first made for TV short. Young performer Riley Adams makes her debut as Thelma, with Wynton Marsalis, Kennedy Holmes, Sophia Stephens and Anita Jackson also starring. And bringing the festive, gorgeous score are musicians including Grammy Award winners Bebe Winans, Karen Clark-Sheard and saxophonist David Sanborn.
“This musical is a testament to God’s grace and the rich talent that we have right here in St. Louis,” Owens said in a release ahead of its premiere, set for 7 p.m. Monday on the Nine Network and Owens’ YouTube channel. “To accomplish a production of this caliber with high quality talent, story and visuals in such a short time period was a beautiful surprise for all involved. We’re thrilled to share ‘A New Holiday’ in time for Christmas and hope those who can’t be with family — or have lost loved ones — this year find hope and joy in the music and journey.”
On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Owens joined host Sarah Fenske for a sneak peek at the new film and to share what it was like working with such an all-star group of collaborators.
“This whole project, it was a godsend, No. 1, but the way in which it came together was pretty amazing,” Owens said. “We basically had about 2½ months from creation to completion.”
“A New Holiday” is the first major project from the LIFE Creative Ecosystem, a partnership between LIFE Creative Group and LIFE Arts Inc., which Owens founded in 2016 to provide artistic resources, opportunities and mentoring to underserved youth in his hometown of Ferguson.
The film highlights beautiful spaces in Grand Center, including Jazz St. Louis, Powell Hall and Sheldon Concert Hall, and provided important work experiences and income to young St. Louis creatives during its production.
It’s also a production inspired by local philanthropist Thelma Steward. She is married to David Steward, the founder of World Wide Technology. What started as an idea in celebration of Thelma’s birthday quickly morphed into something bigger.
“Many of us have just really had it hard this year in terms of loss and change,” Owens explained. “I lost my mom in March to cancer; [David’s] mother passed away, the matriarch of the Steward family, passed away in July. And so all these things just kind of came together and really fed the evolution of the story and the project. And it became this wonderful gift not only in celebration of Thelma but also a gift to the community.”
Here is the YouTube video of “A New Holiday” will be up 24/7 until the end of the year, check it out here on Black Westchester.
About Steven R. Jones: Jones was a co-founder of The Belafonte Alumni Association, which has over 200 musicians that toured with Mr. Harry Belafonte in his 60 years of performing. On March 1, 2017 the Alumni Association launched is first event at Club Bonafide to celebrate Mr. Belafonte’s 90th birthday.
Having joined the Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc., New York in 2001, he worked as the Lighting Designer and The Director of Production & Touring for fifteen years. Jones selecting and implementing sound, lights, and scenic elements for vocalists on the stage of Showtime at the Apollo – TV show (NBC), Amateur Night, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Metallica, “Legends OWN At The Apollo” featuring Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Earth Wind and Fire, including the Isley Brothers, just to name a few.
In 2007, under educational programing at the Apollo Theater, Jones began a Saturday ten week production workshop for high school students to teach them the different disciplinary areas of live event production: carpentry, props, electrics, lighting, video and audio.
Jones also worked as the Lighting Designer / Technical Director for Democratic National Committee (DNC) Presidential Gala’s which honored President Clinton, Vice President Gore, In addition, the Barak Obama Rally at the Apollo Theater.
Jones worked for fifteen years as the Production Tour Manager, and Lighting Director for Belafonte Enterprises, Inc. which included Mr. Belafonte’s national and international tours.