The two singers of contrasting styles complement each other beautifully.
In 2009 Andrea Bocelli released a collection of holiday and seasonal songs titled My Christmas. Bocelli’s exceptional tenor voice is joined on various tracks by other industry names such as Natalie Cole, Reba McEntire, and even the Muppets. Of all the great performances on the album, however, there is one that stands out as a masterpiece of modern arrangement: “What Child Is This?”
On this track, Bocelli is joined by hip-hop and R&B singer Mary J. Blige, who puts on a singing clinic for the use of melisma — the improvised melodic lines she usually tacks on to her songs. The track opens with Bocelli singing solo, but he is soon joined by Blige in the second half of the first verse.
The first thing that struck us was how well the two singers styles complemented each other. Bocelli sings the whole track straight, with his impeccably trained tone and diction geared to the operatic style. In contrast, Blige sings with the blues infused tones of R&B, touching upon the melody only briefly before her voice dances around with expert precision. These two styles are widely different in performance, but these two masters of their respective art forms come together to make the song, built on the tune of “Greensleeves,” brim with emotion.
The two take turns on the melody, but they come together in gorgeous harmony. Here they also trade off voice parts, showing that each one has the range to sing both. Around 2:50, things really start to heat up, as the two take an emotional bridge to the upper decks in a moment that makes the crowd simply erupt in applause.
We have never been that big of a fan of “What Child Is This?” It always seemed like the emotion of the lyrics was simply piggy-backing on the naturally emotional melody of “Greensleeves,” and when put up next to “O Holy Night” or “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” it always seemed a bit droll. Bocelli and Blige, however, have completely changed our minds. and now their “What Child Is This?” will forever be a staple of our Christmas playlists.
In 2015, the pair came together to perform the carol in concert once again. This version has more theatrics than the previous rendition, and it even features Bocelli dressed like a monk! While this performance is still exceptional, Blige could not travel to the concert and had to sing from the screen. She sings well, but the clip is just missing the great interaction that Bocelli and Blige shared on stage for the 2010 performance.