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‘A New Holiday,’ Premiering This Week, Features An All-Black Cast And Gorgeous St. Louis Scenes

Kennedy Holmes (center left) and Riley Adams (center right) act out a scene filmed inside Powell Hall for "A New Holiday."
LIFE Creative Ecosystem
Kennedy Holmes (center left) and Riley Adams (center right) act out a scene filmed inside Powell Hall for "A New Holiday."

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. 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.”

Related Event
What: Premiere of “A New Holiday”
When: 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 21
Where: The Nine Network of Public Media and YouTube

Is there a Christmas film you plan to watch this week, for the first or 50th time? Perhaps you’re adding “A New Holiday” to the list. Tweet us your thoughts (@STLonAir), send an email to talk@stlpublicradio.org or share your comment or question via our St. Louis on the AirFacebook group.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.