Terrance Kelly is a man of great passion and conviction.

Those qualities have served his Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir well. Since cofounding the organization in 1985, Kelly has showed near-limitless energy and dedication in helping turn Oakland Interfaith into one of the world's top gospel choirs.

"Some people say I'm ambitious," Kelly once told me. "I just say I want what God has for us."

The choir's accomplishments include winning an Emmy Award in 1995, appearing on three Grammy-winning albums, performing with such stars as Linda Ronstadt and Lyle Lovett and touring the globe.

Terrance Kelly and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir bring their holiday show to San Francisco, Oakland and San Francisco in December.Courtesy of Oakland
Terrance Kelly and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir bring their holiday show to San Francisco, Oakland and San Francisco in December. Courtesy of Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir

Yet, the choir is always home for the holidays -- to the delight of its many fans. The group's annual December concerts are a cherished holiday tradition in the Bay Area, every bit as important as "The Nutcracker" and "A Christmas Carol."

The choir performs its 28th annual Holiday Concert at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland on Dec. 7; as well as its South Bay Holiday Concert Dec. 20 in Mountain View and its annual Christmas Eve shows at Slim's in San Francisco.

What is really great about these events is that they're equally suitable for longtime gospel music fan and newcomers to the genre. Everyone is welcome -- regardless of background, religion, etc. -- just like the organization itself.


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Over the years, the choir's membership has represented many offshoots of Christianity as well as other religions. Of course, many view gospel as Christian music. Yet, Kelly sees the genre as something that can cross boundaries.

"Gospel often takes people from all kinds of races and religions to places they've never been," Kelly said. "You can cry your eyes out. You can lie on the floor and cry. You can run and jump. That's what it's all about."

The concerts regularly feature Kelly's innovative arrangements of traditional gospel music, which have included combining "The Little Drummer Boy" with Ravel's "Bolero" and delivering a reggae version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." It's pretty easy to see how those kinds of performances would appeal far beyond the regular gospel crowd.

The best thing about these shows might be that they illustrate how people of all different backgrounds can get together during the holidays. They underscore the choir's mission, which "is to inspire joy and unity among all people through black gospel and spiritual music traditions."

"It's a model of how the world can get along," Kelly said.

Details: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7; Paramount Theatre, Oakland; $10-$40; www.paramounttheatre.com; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts; $28-$36; http://www.ci.mtnview.ca.us/mvcpa; 7 and 9:30 p.m. Dec. 24; Slim's, San Francisco; $15; www.slimspresents.com. For information, go to www.oigc.org.

Other holiday concerts

  • Kem: The Detroit-raised R&B-soul singer is bringing his Christmas Tour to town. That likely means plenty of cuts from 2012's "What Christmas Means," a holiday offering that found Kem crooning through such favorites as "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "We Three Kings." Details: 8 p.m. Dec. 12; Warfield, San Francisco; $49.50-$89.50; www.axs.com.

  • Christmas with the Celts: The Nashville-based band, which performs Scottish-Irish traditional tunes as well as Celtic pop-rock originals, is well known for its PBS special "Christmas with the Celts." I'm guessing that the Celts are even more fun to see in person than on TV. Details: 2 and 6 p.m. Dec. 22; Yoshi's, San Francisco; $28-$55; www.yoshis.com.

  • BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet, a Cajun Christmas: One of the best-loved Cajun bands on the planet brings its toe-tapping bayou-fueled holiday show to the East Bay. Details: 8 p.m. Dec. 15; Yoshi's, Oakland; $25; www.yoshis.com.

  • The Brian Setzer Orchestra: The former Stray Cat struts with style during the holiday season. The vocalist-guitarist is known for putting on fun-filled seasonal shows, which are equally heavy on guitar riffs and Christmas cheer. Details: 8 p.m. Dec. 24; Warfield, San Francisco; $49.50-$69.50; www.axs.com.

  • The Vandals: The legendary SoCal punk band returns with its 18th annual Christmas formal. So dust your tuxedo, spike up your mohawk and get ready to party with the Vandals. Details: 9 p.m. Dec. 21; Slim's, San Francisco; $18; www.slimspresents.com.

    Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.