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What to do in Toronto, Dec. 1-7: Blind Boys of Alabama, Leonard Cohen, and lots of Christmas cheer

The Blind Boys of Alabama perform during a 90th birthday celebration for civil rights pioneer Rev. Joseph Lowery, at the Atlanta Symphony Hall, Oct. 9, 2011, in Atlanta.

John Amis/Associated Press

Blind Boys still singing after 73 years

The gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama was formed by glee club members at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind. The name of the school alone is a clue that we're going back a few years. It was, in fact, in 1939 that Jimmy Carter and five other singers began an extraordinary odyssey, which brings the troupe to Roy Thomson on Dec. 7 for a show of festive-season sacred music. Mr. Carter, one of two surviving members, may or may not recall the state of things in 1939.

In 1939, Gone With the Wind, a romantic epic film starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh and set in the American Civil War, was the talk of Hollywood.

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In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt, after consulting with the superstar physicist Albert Einstein, initiated a program to develop atomic weaponry. In 2005, the Blind Boys recorded (Jesus Hits Like the) Atom Bomb, a song from 1950

In 1939, hit songs included Irving Berlin's God Bless America (as recorded by Kate Smith) and the Billie Holiday-sung Strange Fruit. The former included a verse which rhymed "land so fair" with "solemn prayer," while the latter addressed the lynching of African Americans.

ART & MUSEUMS

Robert Mapplethorpe

Some 30 prints from the late, controversial New York photographer include nudes and famously striking shots of the unreasonably perfect physique of Lisa Lyon. To Jan. 31. Free. Olga Korper Gallery, 17 Morrow Ave., 416-538-8220.

CONCERTS

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Leonard Cohen

Laughing Lenny gets the last laugh: The brooding Montreal bard continues his late-career bloom, bringing the autumnal material of this year's Old Ideas to an arena near you. Dec. 4 and 5, 8 p.m. $39.75 to $270.25. Air Canada Centre, 40 Bay St., 1-855-985-5000.

Chick Corea and Gary Burton

The jazz-star piano-vibraphone duo tours its 2012 album Hot House, here made hotter by the appearance of special guests the Harlem String Quartet for a night of interpretation – of Kurt Weill, Thelonious Monk and another twosome of note, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Dec. 5, 8 p.m. $45 to $99. Koerner Hall, 273 Bloor St. W., 416-408-0208.

CLUBS

Kelly Hogan

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The Neko Case-endorsed backup singer presents her own album I Like to Keep Myself in Pain, an exercise in sad-styled country-soul, as written by M. Ward, Andrew Bird, Robyn Hitchcock, Vic Chesnutt and Stephen Merritt. What can we say, but that their pain is our and the Georgia singer's gain. Dec. 1, 8 p.m. $15.50 to $18 (available at Soundscapes and Rotate This). Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042.

Sheesham & Lotus & Son

From Kingston, here comes high-stepping Americana music from the 1920s, an era which in the imagination of this trio is incomplete without a "contrabass harmoniphoneum" and a "sepiaphonic-monophone." Dec. 2, 6 p.m. $10. Rivoli, 334 Queen St. W., 416-596-1908.

THEATRE

A Christmas Carol

Most of the year they're at regular body temperature, but Soulpepper's beloved annual production of Dickens's triple-ghost classic totally toasts our heart's cockles. To Dec. 29. $32 to $68. Young Centre, 50 Tank House Lane, 416-866-8666.

Terminus

A darker-than-dark Irish play written in vividly vulgar verse and involving three interlocking monologues is presented uniquely, with ticket-holders seated on 200 on-stage seats. To Dec. 16. $69. Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W., 416-872-1212.

This is What Happens Next

An autobiographical one-hander from the team of Daniel MacIvor and Daniel Brooks is self-billed as a "scary fairy tale with a happy ending," which also describes the troubled administration of our city's embattled mayor. Dec. 4 to 9 (previews begin Dec. 1). $15 to $25. Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St., 416-504-9971.

Fare Game: Life in Toronto's Taxis

The meter is running, and so is this multimedia exploration of the men and women who get us where we're going. To Dec. 8. $25 to $35. Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave., 416-504-7529.

DANCE

Perreault

By Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie, an homage to the late Montreal choreographer Jean-Pierre Perreault includes dance and Tim Southam's elegant documentary Danser Perreault. Dec. 4 to 8. 8 p.m. $25 to $35. Citadel, 304 Parliament St., 416-364-8011 or colemanlemieux.com.

National Ballet of Canada: Giselle

Considered to be the ballerina's version of Hamlet, the melodramatic French masterwork is a romantic ballet in the truest sense. Dec. 5 to 9. $25 to $239. Four Seasons Centre, 145 Queen St. W., 416-345-9595.

LITERARY & LECTURE

Robert Ballard

When he was a child, the tiny pieces to his game of Battleship never went missing for long. The discoverer of the Titanic, the Bismark and John F. Kennedy's torpedoed PT boat does show-and-tell about the deep sea and his sinking feelings. Dec. 3 and 4, 8 p.m. $39.50 to $59.50. Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St., 416-872-4255 or masseyhall.com.

45 Books In 45 Minutes

Ben McNally and Lynn Thomson offer a pithy "Whirlwind" presentation of the season's hottest books. Dec. 4, 6:30 p.m. Free (preregister at 416-361-0032). Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay, benmcnallybooks.com.

COMEDY

Naked News Stand Up!

And in the weather today, boy is it getting hot in here. Butt-naked news readers grin and bare it for laughs. Dec. 4, 9:30 p.m. $4. Yuk Yuk's, 224 Richmond St. W., 416-967-6425.

FILM

Jem Cohen: We Have an Anchor

From TIFF and the Images Festival, a film-music hybrid involving triple-projection footage of Nova Scotia and live music and readings from Mary Margaret O'Hara and members of Fugazi; Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. Dec 4 to 5, 8 p.m. $24 to $30. TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W., tiff.net.

EVENT

Oy, Tannenbaum … How The Jews Wrote Xmas

Have a holly schmaltzy Christmas, when Jordan Klapman leads a sing-along tutorial/concert about Tin Pan Alley's legendary Jewish songwriters, and how they wrote a huge amount of classic holiday tunage. Dec. 7, 8 p.m. $35. Jezebel's Lounge (private loft), 184 Munro St., 647-478-1738.

FREE

Arts & Letters Club Open House

A rare opportunity to check out what is inside the significant pile of Victorian-era bricks at 14 Elm Street also allows for the purchase of books, CDs and small works of art from club members. Dec. 2, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Arts and Letters Club of Toronto,14 Elm St., 416-597-0223.

The #BAM Summit

Adventures in African-American jazz, with experimentalists Pheeroan akLaff, Ian Kamau, Ian Steaman and Anupa Mistry. Dec. 2, 2 p.m. Manifesto Space, 37 Bulwer St., musicgallery.org.

FUNDRAISER

The Beamish Classic

Forehand it like Forrest Gump at a ping-pong tournament held downstairs at a paddle-happy social club. Proceeds benefit disadvantaged youth. Dec. 2, 4 to 8 p.m. $10 (register at spintoronto.eventbrite.ca). Spin Toronto, 461 King St. W., 416-599-7746.

Agency Wars

The first rule of Agency Wars is that everybody talks about Agency Wars. Back for its third throwdown, the popular charity boxing event involves advertising-biz folks (who are also trained amateur pugilists) bopping each other for Ronald McDonald House. Dec. 5, 7 p.m. $90. Arcadian Court, 401 Bay St., linebypass.com or agencywars.ca.

Sounds of the Seasons

Deck the halls with Jian Ghomeshi, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. The CBC Radio 2 open house includes performances by Nelly Furtado and the Blind Boys of Alabama, as well as meet-and-greets with on-air personalities. Dec. 7, 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Free (nonperishable food or cash donation). CBC Broadcasting Centre, 250 Front St. W., cbc.ca/toronto.

FAMILY

Sir Jerry's Holiday Show

You want Raffi? He's doing sing-along fun at Roy Thomson Hall (Dec. 2, 2 and 4:30 p.m., $27.50 to $55). If you want the anti-Raffi, go for the top-hatted faux-Brit Sir Jerry, who does outlandish whimsy the same afternoon, across town. Dec. 2, 1 p.m. $5 ($10 for family of four). Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen W., 416-531-5042.

GrimmFest

Here's something that will rumple your stilt skin: With five days of talks, free concerts, activities and performances, the Canadian Opera Company celebrates the 200th anniversary of the classic fairy tales and what is believed to be the 500th performance of the 45-minute children's opera The Brothers Grimm (Dec. 7, 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 8, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; $15 to $25, Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. W.). Dec. 4 to 8. Various venues. 416-363-8231 or coc.ca.

Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe Christmas

Song, story and the communal small-town Canadian experience, from the lectern of the lanky tale-spinner Stuart McLean. Dec 7 and 8 (7:30 p.m.) and Dec. 9 (2:30 p.m). $48 to $60. Sony Centre, 1 Front E., 855-872-7669 or ticketmaster.ca.

CHRISTMAS EVENTS

March of the Santas Dec. 1 and 2 (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Danforth and Logan avenues.

Ballet Creole's Soulful Messiah to Dec. 2. Fleck Dance Theatre, 416-973-4000.

Corktown Christmas Forest Dec. 2. Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, 416-327-6997.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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