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With Christmas tour, Jody Watley proves she's more versatile than people think

With Christmas tour, Jody Watley proves she's more versatile than people think

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Over time, Jody Watley’s career has been marked by all kinds of sounds — more than most know.

There’s been the dance/R&B grooves of Shalamar and ’70s/’80s hits like “Make That Move,” “A Night to Remember,” “Dead Giveaway,” “Take That to the Bank” and “Right in the Socket”; her Grammy-winning solo breakout with “Real Love,” “Looking for a New Love,” “Don’t You Want Me” and “Still a Thrill”; and ambient, electronic grooves since then.

One thing that isn’t associated with Watley is Christmas music. But that could change.

She performs on the 25th anniversary of the “Colors of Christmas” tour, coming Saturday to the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts at Lindenwood University.

She has a new holiday tune, “Like a Holiday,” and her version of “Christmas Time is Here” was included on 2016’s “A Very Diva Christmas.”

“Singing Christmas music is not far out of my vocal wheelhouse,” says Watley, who also has recorded jazz, “After You, Who?” for the “Red, Hot + Blue” compilation album in 1990.

“I’m a very versatile singer,” she says. “Some people don’t actually know that.”

On the Christmas tour, fans will hear a different side of Watley. “Singing with Peabo and Ruben, you really have to be singing up there onstage,” she says.

Watley has fond memories of being on the tour before, with Bryson and Jon Secada. “I’ve been a fan of Peabo for such a long time,” she says. “I would listen to his songs in high school. My neighbor would get the newest music first, and I remember that was the first time I heard Peabo’s ‘Crosswinds’ album (1978).”

She enjoys working with Studdard, an early “American Idol” winner. I told him I was his biggest fan on ‘Idol.’ I was constantly blowing up the lines for him.”

And she says she grew up listening to Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. of the Fifth Dimension and pretended to be a member of the group. She encountered McCoo years later on “Solid Gold,” which McCoo hosted and Watley guested. Touring together on “Colors of Christmas” is a sort of reunion for Watley and McCoo.

“I don’t want to give too much away about (the tour),” she says. “But one of the nice things about it is you don’t know who’s going to come out next singing with who.”

The acts sing together in different combinations and perform a couple of their individual hits before going back to the ensemble. “It’s a nice tapestry of singing and holiday cheer, and it’s really wonderful for people looking for family entertainment,” Watley says.

She has also kept busy with Jody Watley featuring SRL (formerly Shalamar Reloaded), her version of the Shalamar brand with Nate Allen Smith and Rosero McCoy.

Watley was part of Shalamar’s classic lineup with Howard Hewett and Jeffrey Daniel, which dissolved with the group’s “The Look” album (1983).

“You shouldn’t try to reopen doors that God has closed to you,” she says.

Watley wrote an open letter on her website, detailing the group’s difficult history and her need to form Jody Watley featuring SRL in 2015.

Watley had been taken aback by a promo for Shalamar featuring Hewett, Daniels and what seemed to be a likeness of herself. (Carolyn Griffey, daughter of Shalamar’s former record label head, now sings with Hewett and Daniels.)

“It started by my trying to get control over some false advertising,” Watley says. She trademarked the name Jody Watley featuring Shalamar Reloaded (SRL).

Though she and SRL perform Shalamar hits, her main goal has been to foster a new brand with SRL. “Our focus is our new music,” she says. “It’s a fresh thing — a new entity.

While fans love her new group, she says, “I’m still Jody Watley, solo artist, and always will be.”

She and SRL have released singles such as “The Mood” and “O.R.I.G.I.N.A.L.” “When we first came out a handful of people were hating on us, so we did a song saying we are originals,” she says.

The group is working on a debut album, “Bridges,” which Watley says will be an eclectic mix of contemporary R&B and classic soul. And Watley is working on new solo material, which she says so far sounds jazzy.

“When you hear the Christmas single ‘Like a Holiday,’ that was something that inspired it,” she says. “I’ve always loved jazz music. ... All of my albums have been something different. There’s no formula. The main thing is to be myself and be authentic.”

What “Colors of Christmas” tour with Peabo Bryson, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., Ruben Studdard, Jody Watley • When 8 p.m. Saturday • Where J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts at Lindenwood University, 2300 West Clay Street, St. Charles • How much $39.50-$79.50 • More info lindenwood.edu

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