Illustration: Jorge Colombo
When Rickey Minor and his wife, Karen, throw a party, everyone's invited. Minor, who started playing bass guitar at age 14 and dropped out of UCLA in 1979, soon joining Gladys Knight and the Pips on tour, has arranged music for the likes of Stevie Wonder, Carrie Underwood, and Usher; he's now the musical director of American Idol. His love of Christmas music is boundless—a passion he shares with his 21-year-old son, Sean. We asked Minor to tell us about holidays at his house and give up a playlist of ten favorite tracks that link genres and generations.
What are your childhood memories of Christmas?
I grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, and during the holidays, neighbors would throw a movable Christmas party/talent show. All the kids got to perform. We'd set up a small sound system and work out our routines. Every year one of the parents or grandparents would perform "Merry Christmas, Baby," singing along with the record. When I hear that song—as well as "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," by the Jackson 5—I am instantly transported back.
What's your Christmas like today?
Most years it's at my house, with our family and tons of friends who don't have relatives in the area. There's a lot of food, a lot of laughter, and a lot of singing around the piano. Guests call each other and work on their duets before they get here. It's an all-day affair—it starts about 2 o'clock and ends sometime after I'm already in bed. There are still people out in the Jacuzzi, laughing it up, when I'm asleep.
Why do you think holiday music stirs the emotions?
For most of us, the songs remind us of happy times. For some, the music of the holidays is about longing. When they hear "White Christmas," it brings to mind the last time they were with someone who isn't here anymore. But, still, it's always good to remember.
Tell us about the songs you chose for our playlist.
I love the combination of Al Jarreau and Kathleen Battle on "My Favorite Things." It's just gorgeous, when jazz meets classical. Listening to "Winter Wonderland," the remastered track from Ella, is wonderful. It sounds like the day it was recorded. As for "Someday at Christmas," if Stevie Wonder sings the phone book, then you go and listen.