Get ready to spread some holiday cheer, because the most wonderful time of the year is here! The greatness of Black Christmas music is one of the things that remains the same even in a period of unprecedented changes.
The right playlist can make virtual and/or socially distant celebrations feel reminiscent of life pre-COVID-19 pandemic.
And there’s a melody for everyone, too. Adorable jingles acclaim the innocence of young children. Soulful records offer encouragement in a time of despair. Sweet ballads fuel romance. Comforting holiday-themed tracks uplift the brokenhearted. Unique recreations of traditional carols highlight the religious aspect of the holiday. There are even festive records with sultry requests for Santa.
Talk about range and variety!
The greatness of Black Christmas music isn’t limited to our personal preferences either. At their best, these classics have landed at the top of the charts and have influenced the way people commemorate the season every year.
Check out 20 of the greatest Christmas songs by Black artists below, and be sure to tell us which ones you’re adding to your playlist.
1. Alexander O’Neal “My Gift to You”
Alexander O’Neal offered a never-ending souvenir of love on “My Gift to You.”
2. Boyz II Men Featuring Brian McKnight “Let It Snow”
What’s the festive season without a little romance? Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight’s “Let It Snow” honored the “joyous thing” that is love. The collaborative effort peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 2012.
3. Destiny’s Child “8 Days of Christmas”
The chart-topping trio celebrated the early 2000s and all of its millennium glory by asking their “baby” to give them CDs, belly rings and a “crop jacket with dirty denim jeans” on “8 Days of Christmas.”
4. Donny Hathaway “This Christmas”
Donny Hathaway unknowingly delivered a Black Christmas anthem with “This Christmas.” According to American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), it was the 30th most-performed holiday song of all time. Aretha Franklin, Chris Brown, Mary J. Blige, John Legend and Ne-Yo are among the singers who’ve recreated the classic tune.
5. Eartha Kitt “Santa Baby”
Eartha Kitt came under fire after the suggestive tone of “Santa Baby” led to boycotts following its 1953 release. According to Billboard, songwriter Philip Springer called the sultry sensation “the first sexy Christmas record.”
6. Ella Fitzgerald “Frosty the Snowman”
The First Lady of Song’s “Frosty the Snowman” rendition served up a jazz swing that made her cover one for the ages.
7. The Jackson 5 “Give Love on Christmas Day”
While most holiday songs focus on the act of giving, this number by The Jackson 5 shines a light on what’s really important. “What the world needs is love. Yes, the world needs your love,” they sang.
8. The Jackson 5 “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
Filled with holiday hit after hit, The Jackson 5 Christmas Album spent four weeks at No.1 on Billboard magazine’s special Christmas Charts. It went on to sell more than 3.5 million copies worldwide. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is one of the album’s standout tracks.
9. Kirk Franklin & The Family “Jesus Is The Reason For The Season”
Back in 1996, Kirk Franklin & The Family set the record straight about why they were celebrating. If you listen closely, you may hear familiar voices like that of David and Tamela Mann.
10. Luther Vandross “Every Year, Every Christmas”
Celebrating the holidays may not be a remedy for a broken heart, but Luther Vandross shared his optimism on “Every Year, Every Christmas.”
11. Mahalia Jackson “O Holy Night”
The Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson, offered her special soulful take on this beloved hymn.
12. Mariah Carey “All I Want For Christmas”
The holidays just aren’t the holidays without Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” on repeat. In 2019, the single helped earn Carey the record for the longest span of Hot 100 No. 1s: 29 years, four months and two weeks, Billboard reports.
13. Nat King Cole “The Christmas Song”
Songwriters Bob Wells and Mel Tormé wrote Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” on a hot summer day as a way to cool down. Talk about irony!
14. Otis Redding “Merry Christmas, Baby”
Otis Redding flipped the script on “Merry Christmas, Baby.” The crooner spoke from the delight of a gift recipient whereas most carols focus on the act of giving.
15. Run-D.M.C. “Christmas in Hollis”
Heralded as hip-hop’s earliest mainstream holiday song, “Christmas in Hollis” almost wasn’t recorded. According to The Source, D.M.C. expressed his apprehension about the project to fellow group members, Rev. Run and Jam Master Jay. “Nope. We’re not doing it. That’s what they try to do to hip-hop. They commercialize you and try to make you corny,” he reportedly said. Fortunately, the trio reconsidered and celebrated the single’s 33-year release in November.
16. Stevie Wonder “Someday at Christmas”
Released in the midst of the Vietnam War, “Someday at Christmas” delivered a hopeful message filled with social and political themes. Stevie Wonder imagined what life could be without conflict and with the possibility of a “world where men are free.”
17. The Supremes “My Favorite Things”
“My Favorite Things” recounts The Supremes’ most memorable wintertime moments and how they recall them to fight through bad days.
18. The Temptations “Silent Night”
There are many renditions of this time-honored treasure, but The Temptations’ cover of “Silent Night” is now the standard. The Temptations Christmas Card was a unique release because it gave each member of the legendary group the opportunity to lead a popular Christmas song.
19. TLC “Sleigh Ride”
TLC put a unique spin on music for the festive season with the release of “Sleigh Ride.” The lively single offered Christmas greetings and well-wishes for the new year in a way that only the trio could. The song, a mix of rapping and singing, appeared on the Home Alone 2: Lost in New York soundtrack.
20. Whitney Houston “Do You Hear What I Hear”
More than just an outstanding interpretation of the story of the nativity, Whitney Houston’s “Do You Hear What I Hear” made a lasting impact. It was featured on A Very Special Christmas benefit album, which raised money for the Special Olympics.