Around Town: Asheville Symphony celebrates New Year’s Eve with ‘Queens of Soul’

SINGING FROM THE SOUL: Morgan James, left, and Erica Gabriel will be the featured performers at the Asheville Symphony’s New Year’s Eve: Queens of Soul concert at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium at Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville. Photos courtesy of the Asheville Symphony

The Asheville Symphony has celebrated past New Year’s Eves with music from Beethoven, The Beatles and Cirque du Soleil. The tradition continues this year with a concert of classic Motown, soul and R&B songs.

The symphony will present New Year’s Eve: Queens of Soul on Friday, Dec. 31, at 8 p.m., in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium at Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville.

The concert will feature guest vocalists Morgan James and Erica Gabriel singing classic hits from Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Whitney Houston, Marvin Gaye and more. Darko Butorac, the symphony’s music director, will be the conductor.

“Morgan James and Erica Gabriel are both phenomenal vocalists who really embody the style and sound of soul, Motown and R&B,” says Daniel Crupi, executive director of the symphony.

A graduate of The Juilliard School, James has released three studio albums on Epic Records as well as albums covering Joni Mitchell’s Blue and The Beatles’ White Album.

Gabriel has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Savannah Philharmonic and the Jackson Symphony. She won the Classical Singer Regional University Competition, the Hartford Memorial Scholarship competition and was the 2018 gold medal winner of the American Traditions Vocal competition.

The Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville is at 87 Haywood St. Ticket are $35-$85. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

A right jolly old elf

You might say Tom Jerman is a bit obsessed with Santa Claus.

The retired attorney’s collection of Santa figurines, which began modestly in 1985 when he purchased a single piece at an art festival in California, has grown over the years to about 4,500. He even added about 1,500 feet of extra storage space to the attic of his Biltmore Park home to accommodate the collection.

Jerman’s interest in St. Nick — and frustration with existing books — led him to write Santa Claus Worldwide: A History of St. Nicholas and Other Holiday Gift-Bringers, which was published by McFarland & Co. The book takes an in-depth look at Saturn, Odin, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, Knecht Ruprecht, Kriss Kringle, Belsnickel and countless other holiday gift-givers dating back to 5,000 B.C.

“While collecting and decorating is enjoyable, writing history is a lot more fulfilling because I discovered that it had been years since anyone had written a quality history, and none of the existing books covered the breadth of mine, both chronologically  and geographically,” Jerman asserts.

People’s biggest misconception about Santa Claus is that he is merely an Americanization of  St. Nicholas, notes Jerman. But according to the author, Santa’s actual lineage can be traced to gift-giving figures who developed as specifically non-Catholic alternatives to St. Nicholas in post-Reformation Germany.

Jerman’s next book will examine whether Clement Clarke Moore actually wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” more commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas.” The poem’s authorship has been the subject of controversy, with some claiming it was actually written by Henry Livingston Jr. Jerman hopes to publish the book in 2022.

For more information on Santa Claus Worldwide or to purchase the book, visit

Curiouser and curiouser

In the spring, faculty members of UNC Asheville’s department of management and accountancy were brainstorming ways to engage students, alumni, potential students and others in their research and classroom topics.

The result is Conversations for the Curious Mind, a podcast series featuring interviews with faculty members, as well as professionals and industry leaders. The podcast launched in September and has produced four episodes so far on topics such as retirement, the gender gap in leadership and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in lower-income countries.

“While podcasts were gaining in popularity prior to COVID, they have become an increasingly new way to learn and share knowledge and ideas,” says Deena Burris, associate professor of management. “I personally love to listen to podcasts and learn about new ideas and topics that I otherwise would not have had the time to sit and read about.”

The department hopes to post at least one new episode per month with the goal of doing more if possible, Burris continues. Planned topics for 2022 include behavioral economics and decision-making, the history and impact of discriminatory lending practices, and the purpose and progress of the United Nation’s sustainable development goals.

“It is a way to take what we are thinking, researching and teaching and share it with a larger audience,” she says.

The podcast is an all-volunteer effort that is produced and edited by new media student Nathan Morales and features music by Brian Felix, chair and associate professor of music, and Alex Harvey, a UNCA student in computer science, music and neuroscience. UNCA new media student Leslie Reynalte designed the cover art.

The podcast is available on the department of management and accountancy website at and on Spotify at

Glass appeal

If you want to get in the holiday spirit, do some window shopping.

The Asheville Downtown Association recently selected winners of its annual Downtown Holiday Windows Contest. Judges scored the businesses on creativity, originality, use of merchandise and the wow factor.

The winners are:

  • Best in Show: Madam Clutterbuckets Neurodiverse Universe, a gift shop at 21 Battery Park Ave., Suite 101.
  • Wow Factor: Dog & Pony Show, a gift shop and home decor store at 59 Haywood St.
  • Best Use of Merchandise: Fired Up! Creative Lounge, 26 Wall St., and Mast General Store, 15 Biltmore Ave.

“Our judges were very impressed with the creativity and heart that went into each window,” said Meghan Rogers, executive director of the Asheville Downtown Association.

You can view the windows by following along the Downtown Holiday Windows Walking Tour. A map of businesses can be found at

Memoirs contest

The Writers’ Workshop of Asheville will accept submissions for its annual Memoirs Contest through Friday, Dec. 31. The contest is open to writers of all experience levels, and contestants may submit multiple entries.

Participants should submit a memoir of 5,000 words or less. The entry fee is $25 per story.

If submitting by mail, pages should be paper clipped with name, address, phone number and title of work on the first page. Enclose a legal size, self-sealing SASE for a critique and list of winners. Make a $25 check or money order payable to The Writers’ Workshop and mail to: Memoirs Contest, 387 Beaucatcher Road, Asheville, NC 28805.

Emailed submissions may be sent to, with “Memoirs Contest” in the subject. Please send attachments as Word documents only.

For more information or pay the entry fee online, go to


The Transylvania Community Arts Council has named Sommer Coen studio manager and artist-in-residence of the TC Arts Ceramics program. Coen joined the staff of TC Arts in November.

Coen has a degree in studio art from the University of North Georgia and has interned at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colo., as well as volunteered with the Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center in Mountain City, Ga. After graduating, Coen worked at Fowler’s Clay Works in Gatlinburg, Tenn., as a production potter and lead pottery teacher.

“Coen’s focus in ceramics and traditional weaving have led her to have a deep admiration for the Indigenous peoples and the Appalachian pioneers who adapted to these harsh mountains,” the arts council said in a press release. “Through arts education and teaching, she hopes to preserve the pockets of culture and diversity found in and around Appalachia.”

TC Arts has also announced the reopening of its ceramics studio and program.

For more information, go to



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