The best part of this time of the year is some of the incredible holiday music you hear on the streets, on the radio and in the homes of loved ones.
Black artists for decades have recorded some of the most powerful, gorgeous and heartfelt yuletide tunes ever released.
Interesting when you consider that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in one of Christianity’s most sacred time of the year and that Blacks were not Christians when they were brought to the western hemisphere the in the belly of ships during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Up to 30 per cent of Africans (or our forefathers) brought to the Americas and the Caribbean were Muslims with the remaining practicing various African faiths and religions.
Christianity was not something our Black forefathers were kindly invited to. Their transportation to the western world was also not an invitation. The, British, French, Spanish Portuguese and American slave traders didn’t come to the shores of Western Africa and say “My beloved beautiful Black Brothers and Sisters, I would like to invite you to North And South America and the Caribbean to help us build the new world and make you a part of it. No they didn’t.
They basically said; “Ni—er, get in the bottom of that boat and I’m taking you to the new world whether you like it or not”.
Hence, the voyage of Black people to the western hemisphere and the culture, names, languages and yes religions that went with that.
Black slaves caught practicing their own religions in secret on plantations did so at the risk of their lives.
And so Black people took on names of white people that they were given like, Smith, Johnson, Jones and Eatmon.
They were also given new languages; English, French, Portuguese and Spanish.
And of course. A new religion and in this case, Christianity.
Black people being spiritual by nature, don’t quite practice Christianity like anyone else. The religious fervor, intensity and of course, the testifying with music gives Christianity a whole new perspective when practiced by Black folks.
The Black gospel church tradition is unique and insanely influential in almost every form of popular music around the world.
Legendary soul singers like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Sam Cooke and Mavis Staples all began in the church.
So needless to say when Black People get their hands on Christmas songs, you can forget it… it’s all over…. Consider it a wrap.
Here’s a guide to some of these classics. Most of them are available on major streaming platforms.
“A Motown Christmas” was a compilation that was released in 1973 with many of the tracks from various Motown artists having appeared previously on their own albums.
Selling points: “Someday At Christmas” by Stevie Wonder (maybe the greatest anti-war song ever); “Rudolph The Red Nosed-Reindeer” by The Temptations; “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by The Jackson 5 and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” by Smokey Robinson.
“The Jackson 5 Christmas Album” from 1970 alone continues to worth the price of admission.
Louis Armstrong and his band The Commanders recorded a ditty in 1953 called “Zat You, Santa Claus” with a one of the most dramatic horn lines ever.
A bono-fide classic is Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby” with a cool blues and jazz fusion which is always a romantic holiday treat. Chuck Berry covered “Merry Christmas Baby” as well as composing another holiday classic “Run Rudolph Rub” which was also covered by Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones as a solo outing.
One of my favorites is Ray Charles’ 1985 yuletide collection called “The Spirit Of Christmas” which opens with possibly the greatest version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”
Harry Belafonte has recorded a couple of Christmas albums but the best one released in 1958 “To Wish You A Merry Christmas” which features a mind-boggling and incredible renditions of “The Twelve Days Of Christmas”.
Lena Horne’s 1966 album “Merry From Lena” features one of the most seductive takes on “Jingle Bells” ever heard and Eatha Kitt chimed with the original take on “Santa Baby” from her 1954 self-titled e.p.
“The Godfather Of Soul” James Brown even releases one in 1968 called “A Soulful Christmas” which contained the ultra-funky “Soulful Christmas” and the classic “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” with its latent socio-political message.
“The Queen Of Soul” Aretha Franklin waited until 2008 to finally put out her Christmas album “This Christmas” with her downright epic version of “Ave Maria.”
Aretha’s title track is “This Christmas” another Christmas standard actually written and recorded first by Donna Hathaway in 1970 and has been covered by everybody from Pattie Labelle to SWV, who also put out a good christmas album in 1997 called “A Special Christmas.”
Boys II Men’s 1993 set called “Christmas Interpretations” contains one of the finest covers of “Let It Snow” ever with a musical arrangement unique from any other version.
“Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas” from 1993 contains the irresistible “Louisiana Christmas Day,” a zydeko delight.
Al Green, while somewhat surprisingly restrained on his 1983 album “White Christmas,” still delivers the goods with his take on “O Holy Night”.
Prince And The Revolution delivered the non-album “Another Lonely Christmas” on the b-side to “I Would Die 4 U” off of the classic “Purple Rain” soundtrack in 1984. “Another Lonely Christmas” can be found on the 1993 boxed-set “The Hits 1 & 2 – The B-Sides.
In 1987, A&M Records began putting out their compilations “A Very Special Christmas” to benefit the Special Olympics in which sales raised millions of dollars for.
“A Very Special Christmas” also contained unforgetable musical contributions by Black artists including: The Pointer Sisters with “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”, Luther Vandross’ version of “The Christmas Song” by Mel Torme and immortalized by Nat “King” Cole, Hootie And The Blowfish do a nice take on it as well Tevin Campbell’s take on “O Holy Night” as well as a beautiful one by Tracy Chapman, Boyz II Men and “The Birth Of Christ,” Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love duet on “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,”’s version of “O Christmas Tree” Mary J Blige teaming up with radio personality Angie Martinez on “Christmas In The City” and of course the piece de resistance “Do You Hear What I Hear” by the late great Whitney Houston which is just breathtaking.
Run-DMC also contributed the greatest hip-hop carol ever with “Christmas In Hollis” on the compilation but that wasn’t the first Christmas rap song ever.
That honor belongs to Kurtis Blow with 1970’s “Christmas Rappin’.”
But the ultimate Christmas collection is the 2 albums by gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, 1968’s “Christmas With Mahalia” with an incredible version of “Silver Bells” and 1962’s “Silent Night” – Songs For Christmas where Mahalia immortalizes the title track!
Other Notable Black
Christmas renditions include:
“Run Rudolph Run” – Chuck Berry
“Santa” – Lightning
“Jingle Bells” –
“Silver And Gold” –
“All I Want For Christmas Is You” – Mariah Carey
“All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” – Oliver Jones
“Every Year, Every Christmas” – Luther Vandross
“I Can Hardly Wait “Til Christmas” – The O’Jays
“Soul Holidays” – Sounds Of Blackness
“The Little Drummer Boy” – Charley Pride