Music is part of many family’s holiday traditions. None more so than R&B/Soul artist Reeny Smith and her family who return to Halifax with Reeny’s Family Christmas at St. Matthew’s United Church later this month.
Indeed a family affair, Smith will once again be joined by her grandfather Wallace Smith Sr. and her father Wallace Smith Jr., who are musicians in their own right as members of the men’s soul gospel group The Sanctified Brothers.
Also on stage with Smith will be her mother, siblings Mahalia and JR, and other members of her extended family. “We make it a whole family affair,” says Smith with a laugh on the phone from her home in Dartmouth.
It has been a busy year for the singer-songwriter who walked away with two East Coast Music Awards this year, including R&B/Soul Recording of the Year. Alongside the accolades and a busy touring schedule, she even managed to land two of her songs on the CBC Television drama Diggstown. “I’m a big fan of the show, so it was cool to see a couple of my tunes fit into their plotlines,” she says. “It’s not every day you hear that.”
Growing up in a musical household watching her father and grandparents play professionally, it comes as no surprise that Smith would eventually become a musician herself. But it wasn’t something she aspired to as a child.
“I was always musically inclined, but it wasn’t something that I was planning on in the future,” she says. “When you’re young, you don’t know what you want to do anyway, but it wasn’t a focal point of mine. It was more of a casual hobby. It’s funny how it has come full circle.”
It wouldn’t be until she was 17 before her hobby would become her passion. “I was at a point where I could either go and try to pursue something that I knew wouldn’t make me happy or pursue my passion and go for it. And that’s what I did,” she says.
Going all in at that time, Smith is now 27 and still very much grounded in recognizing the support she received along the way. “Music is a tricky business, but all the credit goes to the hardworking people around me who have helped keep me going this long,” she says.
Not surprisingly, her biggest supporters are her family, and it is a big reason Smith is returning with Reeny’s Family Christmas. “We had so much fun we decided to bring it back again for another year,” she says.
Not originally planned as a holiday show per se, Smith says while she always had the idea of bringing her family together for a concert, the timing last year just happened to work. “Everyone was around during the holiday season, and I thought it would be the perfect time to try and pull something like this off. We got together, and we made it work.”
And while working with family can sometimes be seen as a stressful proposition, Smith says working with hers on Reeny’s Family Christmas was anything but. “My family were super comfortable being with each other in a professional and personal environment, so rehearsals turned into family gatherings where we shared ideas and jammed,” she says. “I know a lot of people would think it’s probably tricky to navigate that many people, but we just had fun.”
That sense of fun has translated well to the stage, with the family putting their bluesy gospel spin to some holiday classics. “We do a couple of numbers where we just flip the song right on the head, and we jam them out and have so much fun with them,” she says. “One of the songs that we do that I think people loved last year was Winter Wonderland, we jazzed that one up a bit.”
But while Smith says some favourites will return, audiences will not see a repeat of last year’s concert. “I’ve written a few original Christmas songs over the past year, so we’ll be playing some of those, and have some new guests too,” she says.
One of those new songs Smith wrote specifically for this year’s performance is Dear Santa, a song about gratitude. “This song talks about how Santa can skip my chimney because I have everything that I need, my family, and love surrounding me,” she explains. “It is a song about being thankful for what you have, especially those of us who are more fortunate and privileged than others.”
While Reeny’s Family Christmas is quickly becoming a holiday staple for Smith and her family, they also share another big tradition offstage. “My grandfather is a pastor, so every Christmas I can remember I’ve been in church on Christmas morning,” she says. “After church, we go home, we open presents, and then the whole family gets together for a Christmas dinner.”
Trading off between her large extended family, this year, Smith’s aunt will host the family dinner, and next year it will be her grandparent’s turn. Just don’t expect to hear of Smith doing any hosting herself. “I don’t think they would trust anything I cooked,” she laughs.
While 2019 has been a busy year for Smith, 2020 is shaping up to be just as demanding. It is not surprising to hear it will include a new Christmas album. And given the success of Reeny’s Family Christmas, she is also planning on including family members. “It’s becoming a bit of a thing now for us during Christmas, so I think it’s only fitting that will all chime in for the album as well.”
Reeny’s Family Christmas takes place at St. Matthew’s United Church (1479 Barrington St, Halifax) on December 14. Tickets are available online through Ticket Halifax.