Brian McKnight had a Christmas mission this year, but the presents were musical — for his fans and for himself.
Earlier this month the Buffalo-born R&B singer, songwriter, producer, actor and radio host released “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” the 11th album of a career that includes a sevenyear (1998-2005) stint with Motown. It’s the now Los Angeles-based McKnight’s second foray into the seasonal market, following 1998’s “Bethlehem” — which has sold more than 3 million copies — but this project comes from a decidedly different direction.
“I kinda wanted to do something more traditional — well, more traditional than the last one,” says McKnight, 39, who has
sold more than 20 million copies of his 11 albums worldwide and has a resume of
collaborations with Justin Timberlake, Mariah Carey, P. Diddy, Christina Aguilera, Rascal Flatts, Nelly, Vanessa Williams, Willie Nelson and Kenny G., among others.
“I thought while making (‘Bethlehem’) that I would try to make a Christmas record you could play all year ‘round. But I realized along the way that people wanted Christmas music to sound like Christmas music, so I went back and did another one.”
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” does include a pair of McKnight originals but mostly focuses on familiar holiday fare such as “Silent Night,” “Silver Bells” and “Let it Snow,” the latter of which features McKnight’s sons Brian Jr. and Nikolas. Josh Groban, Vince Gill and Take 6 also appear on the album.
McKnight also modeled his version of “The Christmas Song” after the late Marvin Gaye. “I said, ‘If he was alive right now and he was doing a Christmas record ... how would he do that song?’ I tried to channel him for that.”
“I just tried to do a cross-section,” McKnight says of the album as a whole. “Yeah, I’m a Christian, but I do love songs that are about the season and the gift of giving. So I tried to do an across-theboard, ‘If you love Christmas put this (album) on while your family’s around and you can play it from beginning to end’ kind of thing.”
Will his own family do that? “Nah, that would be kind of weird,” McKnight says with a laugh. “I don’t really sit around listening to my records most of the time, ’cause I’m gonna nitpick ’em to death.
“Plus, my family sing so we’re singing more often than actually listening to records.”
McKnight plans to sing some of the Christmas songs during his concert this weekend at The Palace of Auburn Hills, but he promises that they’ll be added to “my regular show. It’d be kind of wrong of me to do a show where I don’t play the hits people love.”
McKnight is hoping to create a few more of those in the new year, when he releases his next album, “Lives from 15,” during the first half of the year. And there’s more than that on his plate. He hopes to expand his multi-media reach — which includes BETJ’s “Soul Session Countdown with Brian McKnight,” a morning show on Los Angeles’ smooth jazz radio station and reporting duties for E! — to include a nationally syndicated radio show and a talk show tentatively titled “McKnight at Night,” as well as an appearance on the 2009 edition of “Celebrity Apprentice.”
McKnight, who has appeared in the stage musicals “Cheaters” and “Chicago,” is also helping his sons work on their first album, which they hope to release next year, and is looking for other projects for his entertainment company, Gemini3.
“I control everything myself now, and I like that,” he explains. “I’m never going to make another record that I don’t own, and I’m not going to subject my children to being in a system where the record label makes all the money and doesn’t look out for the artists.
“My situation now lets me do the best that I can, and I have a loyal number of fans I know will go out and check it out. I can do what makes me happy and makes them happy, and I don’t have to worry about a third party interfering. It’s a great situation.”
Brian McKnight and Vivian Green perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 29) at The Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $37.50 and $20. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
Send your thoughts and comments to