Twelve Days of STL Christmas, Day 4: Martha Bass, "Christmas Love"

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Martha Bass - VIA I'M SO GRATEFUL ALBUM COVER
Christmas is upon us, and that means inoculating yourself against the relentless onslaught of much of the Christmas carol canon. To save your ears — and to celebrate the seasonal offerings of some local artists — senior music writers Roy Kasten and Christian Schaeffer will count down twelve of the finest holiday jams from St. Louis artists each weekday from now through December 24.

Day 4: Martha Bass — "Christmas Love"

See also: The 100 Greatest St. Louis Songs

In this late '60s recording, originally for the Checker/Chess label and found on A Christmas Dedication — one of the most essential of all seasonal collections — St. Louis native Martha Bass gives everything she has in her gently rasped, mature voice. And what she has, even in two minutes, is enough to fill a hundred holiday seasons.

Bass had been singing for some four decades: in the Pleasant Green Missionary Church, in the National Baptist Convention, with Reverend James Cleveland, the Davis Sisters and, significantly, as the featured soloist for the legendary Clara Ward Singers. Along with being a woman of faith, Bass was a nurse who ministered much of her life to the ill and infirm. "Christmas comes but once a year," she begins, "for those apart it brings them near." It couldn't be a simpler or more familiar start.

This is gospel music at its most essential: just piano, organ, guitar and a rhythm section. No strings, no choirs, no sleigh bells. Bass sounds less like her mentor Willie Mae Ford Smith and so much more like her idol, Mahalia Jackson. She is preaching without preaching, house-wrecking with a contralto warm as candles, closing in on a central truth: Jesus, mangers, miracles, whatever. It all comes down to love.

When to play: At 11:59 p.m. on Christmas Eve, because there'll never be a better (or more concise) midnight mass than this song.

Star of Bethlehem St. Louis: Fontella Bass was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 2000. Her mother, one of the greats of St. Louis music, still has no star on Delmar.

See also: The 12 Best Songs for a St. Louis Christmas

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