Leslie Odom Jr. talks staying connected and making music during this challenging holiday season

The 'Hamilton' star told theGrio he was personally affected by America's dual pandemics of racial injustice and COVID-19.

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It’s been nearly a year since Tony Award-winning actor and singer Leslie Odom Jr. has been able to see his parents in person, and he understands he’s not alone. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, scores of kinfolk have had to keep physical distance to stay safe, but that certainly doesn’t lessen their love for one another. 

Leslie Odom Jr. attends the 51st NAACP Image Awards, presented by BET, at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in February. The “Hamilton” star recently released his second holiday LP, “The Christmas Album.” (Photo by Robin L. Marshall/Getty Images for BET)

“We’re able to send videos back and forth,” Odom told theGrio, “of little special moments that they would miss otherwise, and hit each other to ask, ‘Hey, were you watching this show? I just binged this show.'”

Odom recently teamed up with Verizon to encourage their subscribers to upgrade to new devices, which the telecom giant also packaged with deals on Disney Plus, ESPN, Hulu and Apple Music. “It’s also been tremendously important,” he said, “to stay connected with my loved ones across the country when I couldn’t travel to see them.”

The holidays are extra special this year for Odom, who recently released his second holiday LP, The Christmas Album. 

“You know, the first thing people ask me about after Hamilton is my first Christmas album, Simply Christmas,” he said. “I wanted to try my hand and at another Christmas album, partly because of where I am in my life these days, and partly because I felt like it was what people might be most in need of.” 

The new album features Odom’s takes on “Oh Holy Night,” ”Little Drummer Boy,” ’Auld Lang Syne” and even ”Last Christmas.” 

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“This is a more joyful record,” he said. “I think you’d feel that right from the top of this album. We hope it becomes a part of your yearly Christmas playlist and your yearly conditions with your family. I’m very proud of it.” 

The desire to add joy to a period in time that’s seen far too many dark days is admirable. Odom said he was personally affected by the dual pandemics of racial injustice and the coronavirus this year. 

His friend, stage and screen actor Nick Cordero, died in July from COVID-19.

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“That really shook us up and allowed us to see through the politicizing of the virus that was happening,” he said, “and the politicizing of wearing masks and taking any kind of precautions. It’s just such a strange moment.” 

One of the first things that shook Odom to his core this year was the murder of 26-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. The killing impacted how he approached his work, including the Freeform limited series, Love in the Time of Corona, which was one of the first projects shot during the pandemic. 

Odom and his wife, Nicolette Robinson, starred in Love in the Time of Corona; as its executive producers, they were looking for couples who could act together amid the pandemic. The pair’s storyline was of a couple who were deciding if they should have a second child.

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It was personal to the actors, who recently announced they are expecting their second child. 

“I found that it was affecting the way that I was thinking about raising my children and what to tell my kids in 2020 about what it means to be Black and American,” said Odom. “It really, you know, it shook my foundation. But Freeform didn’t shy away. They were like, ‘If you are willing to talk about these things, we would love to give you guys the room and space to talk about those things.'”

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Odom is set to portray Sam Cooke in the Regina King-directed film, One Night in Miami, due to be released on streaming platforms on Christmas Day. 

Still, he may always be best known for his role as Aaron Burr in Hamilton

The show recently hit Disney Plus, allowing for millions who were unable to enjoy it in the theater to enjoy the cultural phenomenon in their homes. The place that Hamilton holds in history is not lost on Odom. 

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Hamilton was able to come into people’s living rooms while people were home with their kids for more time than they ever thought they would have,” he maintained, “and people were able to experience it and share it maybe at a time when they needed it most. It’s been so meaningful.”

Its intergenerational resonance is a factor of which Odom is particularly proud.

Hamilton, as a project, has been so meaningful to families,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot in society that we share. It’s something I’ve said. It’s something that Hamilton is something that people my age share with their children and their parents. There’s not a whole lot in society that we share around the dinner table like that.” 

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