Denise Pelley’s A Jazzy Christmas features “London’s First Lady of Jazz” and her top-notch ensemble: Stephen Holowitz • piano & musical director; Mitch Tyler • bass; Greg Mainprize • drums; and Paul Stevenson • trumpet. TD Sunfest audiences will be treated to a stocking full of Christmas favourites like Winter Wonderland, Driving Home For Christmas, Carol of the Bells/My Favourite Things, 2000 Miles, Jingle Bells, and Please Come Home For Christmas.
A portion of the proceeds from this concert will support Canadian Aid for Southern Sudan. It’s a charity near and dear to Denise Pelley’s heart. Over the years, CASS has raised money to free slaves, build schools, send children to school, provide medical supplies, support women’s groups, buy goats for families, and introduce a clean water project. In January 2018, Denise will make her eleventh trip to South Sudan with ten other team members. Her main role as a CASS volunteer is to help run a music & art camp for over 400 children.
Denise says, “These trips leave me with mixed emotions: love because I love the South Sudanese people and their strength; sadness as I see how they live with very little; happiness for they show their happiness with what little they have; hope that their lives will improve, that they stay strong and keep believing in themselves and a better future.”
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Denise Pelley arrived in the Forest City from Nova Scotia as an infant. She became a professional singer after high school, when she joined a Michigan show band.
“We rehearsed and played almost every day,” she told The London Free Press. “We did everything from pop hits to R&B classics, Motown and funk. It was a great experience that turned me into a professional. I learned how to pace myself.”
But two years on the road was enough. Denise returned to London and gravitated toward jazz. She performed for 2 ½ years in a legendary nine-piece house band at the old Bumpers club and later had a steady gig with pianist John Noubarian and bassist Darryl Stacey at the old 99 King St. venue.
As a blues, gospel and jazz singer, Denise has garnered numerous awards and performed with orchestras as far afield as Portugal and Germany. But it was the 1998 jazz CD Trust The Moment that first won her national acclaim. Among Denise’s later albums are Christmas from the Heart (2007), the gospel-flavoured I’m Home (2001), and Live At The Grand (2003), which was recorded at the iconic London theatre with a 12-piece band. Denise has shared the stage with many great artists, including jazz trombonist Ray Anderson, gospel/blues vocalist Jackie Richardson, and world beat guitarist Jesse Cook. Locally, she opened for Aretha Franklin at Budweiser Gardens, and has headlined for such diverse groups as Sunfest and the Karen Schuessler Singers.
This Renaissance woman also enjoys acting and has appeared at The Grand Theatre in the Fats Waller musical Ain’t Misbehavin’, Wang Dang Doodle (with the late Denis Simpson), and A Streetcar Named Desire. In September 2004, Denise’s one-woman show, Jazzabel, premiered to sold-out audiences at The Grand’s McManus Theatre. In October 2005, she took this hit musical to Washington, DC (the National Museum of Women in the Arts) and, in February 2006, to New York City (Urban Stages Theatre).
In 2008 & 2014, Denise was honored as Jazz Artist of the Year at the Jack Richardson London Music Awards and, in 2015, inducted into the London Music Hall of Fame. In February 2009, the London Black History Committee presented her with the Black Community Achievement Award.