By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Once again, vocalist Grace Hughes of Marlborough will be featured when the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra presents its 43rd annual Christmas concert in Boston. This year’s milestone performance marks the 50th anniversary of Duke Ellington’s “Sacred Concerts.” Hughes will sing three pieces including “A Song for Christmas.”
“That song was performed way back when by Lena Horne,” she noted. “I feel like I’m getting the opportunity to remake history with Duke Ellington and Aardvark, and follow in the footsteps of a great vocalist.”
Hughes sang the national anthem at Fenway Park in 2004, sparking the interest of Aardvark’s founder and director Mark Harvey. After hearing her performance, he invited Hughes to sing in their annual Christmas concert.
“I was so honored to accept because Aardvark has a legendary status in the jazz world,” she said.
Hughes and the orchestra opened its 43rd season Oct. 8 at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston. The occasion spotlighted the release of orchestra member Richard Nelson’s CD, “Deep River.” There, Hughes and Aardvark’s male vocalist, Jerry Edwards, performed a duet from the CD.
“My strongest memory of that evening is doing the duet,” she recalled. “It’s one of those pieces that combines all of the influences that have played a part in my musical life – jazz, gospel and blues.”
Hughes and her family relocated to Marlborough in 2009.
“We were looking for a place close to Boston where I perform with Aardvark, as well as close to Worcester where I have relatives,” she relayed. “We absolutely fell in love with the third home we saw. Since then, Marlborough has been our home.”
Growing up mostly in Worcester, Hughes developed a love for gospel music while singing in a children’s church choir. She also performed as a soloist with the New England Outreach Ministries directed by her godfather, Earl Waithe. At age 15, she was featured on his live CD recording, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”
“That was my first time singing with a live band and being on a CD,” she recalled. “I was excited, nervous and thrilled to sing with my godfather along with a live band. It was surreal for a 15-year-old.”
At age 17, she made her overseas debut during a family vacation in Norway. She sang “Amazing Grace” at a church.
“It was a beautiful exchange through music,” she recalled. “You have African-Americans in Norway, which is unique enough, and then you have the Norwegians. We’re all in one place and enjoying the music.”
In 2005, Hughes won the William Robert Abate Song Competition for “Pennies on the Ground,” which she co-wrote with Bob Yen Jr. The competition sought entries with the theme of “Peace through Music.”
“That’s the foundation of my music: to bring people together, to cross over divides,” she explained.
In 2008, Hughes released her debut album, “Right At Home.” She can also be heard on Aardvark’s CDs “Impressions” and “No Walls: A Christmas Concert.”
Hughes looks forward each year to performing in Aardvark’s Christmas concert.
“It has become a holiday tradition for myself, as well as many of the audience members every year,” she said. “It’s the season of giving. This is a gift that I can give to the audience through music.”
The Christmas concert will be presented Saturday, Dec. 12, at 7:30 p.m., at Emmanuel Church in Boston. Proceeds will benefit Community Works, a coalition of service organizations. For information, call 617-452-3205 or 617-776-8778.
Also, on Saturday, Dec. 5, at 8 p.m., Hughes and Aardvark will perform “Duke Ellington Blues” at Newton South High School in Newton Centre. For information, call 781-237-1917.