1. Nat King Cole actually recorded “The Christmas Song” (a/k/a “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” but originally called “Merry Christmas to You” and written by singer Mel Tormé and Bob Wells in 1944) — three times: in 1944, 1953 and the popular version in 1961. BMI lists it as the most performed Christmas song. (Listen)
2. “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway just might be the most soulful Christmas song ever recorded. Co-written by Hathaway, the song debuted on the 1968 compilation album, Soul Christmas. More than 100 versions of “This Christmas” have been recorded since 1979. (Listen)
3. What’s not to love about “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” by the Jackson 5? It’s classic, it’s adorable, and it’s about Santa. Michael and his brothers recorded the song at Motown’s Los Angeles studios and it was released in 1970, reaching #1 on the Billboard special Christmas singles charts that year and again in 1971. (Listen)
4. “Christmas Just Ain’t Christmas (Without the One You Love) was written by the legendary songwriting duo Gamble & Huff, and besides the O’Jays, it has also been recorded by groups like The Dramatics, as well as by Aretha Franklin. Still, the O’Jays version, released by CBS records in 1973, is considered the classic. (Listen)
5. The Temptations recorded the Christmas classic “Silent Night” (a song that dates back to around 1850) in 1970. It was a single from their first Christmas album, “The Temptations Christmas Card,” for Berry Gordy’s Motown label, and featured each “Temp” performing a solo section. The baritone section alone is a holiday classic. (Listen)
6. Whitney Houston has certainly had her ups and downs, but a major “up” is her recording of the classic “Do You Hear What I Hear.” The song was written in 1962 by the husband and wife team of Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker. Whitney’s version, which appeared on her A Very Special Christmas compilation album in 1987, is the most replayed. (Listen)
7. “Someday at Christmas” is the name of both a single and an album released by Stevie Wonder in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam war. Stevie re-released it in 1978 with a different cover. The song has been covered by everyone from the Jackson 5 to Justin Bieber, who performed it this year at the White House. (Listen)
In 1956, James Brown won the Apollo’s Amateur Night.
9. “Let it Snow” (featuring Brian McKnight) was the hit single from Boyz II Men’s “Christmas Interpretations” album in 1993. The Christmas ballad came at a high point in their career: sandwiched between their debut album, Coolleyhighharmony (1991) and their sophomore album, “II,” which sold 12 million copies. (Listen)
10. Rap pioneers Run-DMC were not short on holiday spirit. Their hit “Christmas in Hollis” actually appeared on two Christmas compilations in 1987: “A Very Special Christmas” (A&M) and “Christmas Rap” (Profile.) Samples on the song include Clarence Carter’s 1968 holiday song “Back Door Santa”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “Jingle Bells”, and “Joy to the World.” (Listen)
11. Mariah Carey (and husband Nick Cannon) welcomed twin bundles of joy in 2011, but in 1994, Carey had different holiday priorities. “All I Want for Christmas is You,” released on Carey’s fourth studio album and co-written by her, has been called a rare holiday classic written in the modern era, and ranks fourth on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Rock and Roll Christmas Songs list. (Listen)
12. Those who only remember Eartha Kitt as Lady Eloise from the Eddie Murphy movie “Boomerang” don’t know the half. Kitt was a sex symbol in the 1950s — a time when black women were barely visible on the new medium: television. “Santa Baby”, recorded in 1953, was among her biggest hits. She later went on to play the original Catwoman in the “Batman” series. (Listen)
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Christmas wouldn’t be quite as special without the soulful music that for many, has come to represent the season. Here’s theGrio’s list of the most soulful of them all: one for each of the 12 days of Christmas.