Reba McEn­tire and Tony Ben­nett cel­e­brate this year’s ‘CMA Coun­try Christ­mas’

Santa Fe New Mexican - - COVER STORY -

Reba McEn­tire had such a good time host­ing “CMA Coun­try Christ­mas” last year, she’s back to do it again – with some very fa­mous friends along.

Fel­low coun­try-mu­sic su­per­stars Martina McBride and Brad Paisley are on the bill – as is the leg­endary Tony Ben­nett – as ABC airs the spe­cial’s ninth an­nual edi­tion Mon­day, Dec. 10. Recorded at Nashville’s Bel­mont Univer­sity, the show also fea­tures Diana Krall (Ben­nett’s lat­est record­ing part­ner, on the Gersh­win trib­ute al­bum “Love Is Here to Stay”), Brett El­dredge, Amy Grant, Dan + Shay, Dustin Lynch, Old Do­min­ion, Michael W. Smith, Lind­sey Stir­ling, Brett Young and the Isaacs.

A re­cip­i­ent of the Kennedy Cen­ter Hon­ors this month, McEn­tire says “it was a lot of fun” to re­turn as “CMA Coun­try Christ­mas” host. “We had won­der­ful artists come in and help us. I got to sing with the Isaacs, a fam­ily gospel group ... and I sing a song in the open­ing with a group of kids who are dancers. I was watch­ing them more than I was pay­ing at­ten­tion to what I was do­ing!”

McEn­tire adds that she was “so glad” to have McBride on board, call­ing her “a won­der­ful tal­ent and a great friend.” And if pop­u­lar-mu­sic icon Ben­nett seems a sur­pris­ing choice for “CMA Coun­try Christ­mas,” McEn­tire re­ports that “ev­ery­body was to­tally in awe” of him: “There was a stand­ing ova­tion im­me­di­ately when he walked out on stage. It was just a very warm ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­body – and when he per­formed, it was just like, ‘Wow! He still has it.”’

Ben­nett says that be­ing on the spe­cial re­minds him of when he “had doubts about do­ing a coun­try song when (con­duc­tor/pro­ducer) Mitch Miller brought me ‘Cold Cold Heart’ back in 1951, and I said to Mitch, ‘This is a coun­try song, so I am not sure I am able to sing it.’ But Mitch was per­sua­sive, and we recorded it more in the vein of a pop song, and it be­came a No. 1 hit ... so of course, I had no qualms at all about singing on ‘CMA Coun­try Christ­mas.”’

Not­ing that he per­forms in Nashville an­nu­ally, Ben­nett is happy to be teamed with Krall on their cur­rent al­bum, and also in many tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances this sea­son.

“Diana and I have known each other for more than 20 years now,” he re­ports. “We met at the Mon­treal Jazz Fes­ti­val, and I was so im­pressed with her that I asked her to join my set and play pi­ano when I sang ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me.’ We have done a few duet record­ings, but it was the right time to get into the stu­dio and record a full al­bum to­gether.”

BY JAY BOBBIN

Tony Ben­nett per­forms on “CMA Coun­try Christ­mas” Mon­day on ABC.

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