Holiday music with soul

OPINION: Here is a list of albums by legends to mix into your playlist to make your holiday party perfect.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

There’s so much great Christmas music out there. So many towering, timeless Black artists have stepped up to the mic to sing a Christmas classic and made magic. Sprinkle your favorite songs from these albums into your Christmas playlist and thank me later. Now, before we get started, there is a bit of a bias here, but it’s for a reason. Most of the albums I’m recommending are from older artists, but I think playing decades-old classics at Christmas helps me recapture a bit of what it was like being young on the big day, back when it was all about everyone giving presents to you. This is the sort of music Mom had playing when I was ripping open my packages, and recalling that while my kids open their stuff ties it all together for me.  

“Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas,” Ella Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald is one of the greatest singers of all time. Her bright, gorgeous, jazzy voice brings joy to these Christmas classics. She released this in 1960, but it doesn’t sound dated.

“Merry Christmas,” Mariah Carey

This is the youngest album on my list, but it’s quickly become part of the Christmas canon. Carey is, also, one of the greatest singers of all time, though she’s a totally different singer than Fitzgerald. Carey is a vocal gymnast who can do anything with a mic. Her runs are incredible, she can do everything including making old Christmas songs sound like hers. Her song “All I Want For Christmas” is a classic.   

“Louis Wishes You A Cool Yule,” Louis Armstrong

This is another incredible source for Christmas classics. Yes, I think Satchmo is one of the greatest singers of all time. His unforgettable, deep, croaky voice had soul and character. It makes me really feel what he’s talking about. His timing was impeccable. He was one of the pioneers of jazz as a singer and a trumpeter. This is a collection that includes “What A Wonderful World,” one of the most popular songs of all time. 

“This Is Christmas,” Luther Vandross

This album showcases his extraordinary voice. Vandross’ voice is luxurious, comforting, lush, full, and so joyous it sounds like he’s smiling brightly as he sings. The 1995 album gives you “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “O’ Come All Ye Faithful.” 

“The Best of Stevie Wonder: The Christmas Collection,” Stevie Wonder

There’s a best-of Stevie Wonder Christmas collection, and yes, you have to include Stevie because — yes, I have to say it again — he’s one of the greatest singers ever. Stevie will make you feel his love in your bones, and his Christmas songs would put the Grinch in the spirit. He’s just such a pure source of genius and love. This collection gives us “Someday At Christmas,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” and “What Christmas Means To Me.”

For something a little funkier, check out “Christmas In Soulsville,” an anthology by the artists of the legendary Stax label. You need to hear Otis Redding singing “Merry Christmas, Baby” and “Winter Wonderland” by Booker T. & the MG’s and “The Mistletoe and Me” by Isaac Hayes.

In so many cases, these Christmas songs are so old that you’ve heard them one million times, and yes, you want to hear them again, they’re a critical part of the season, but if the artist isn’t careful then the song could slip into cliché. The reason why I really need the greatest singers of all time handling my Christmas songs is that they’re artists of such incredible ability that they can take these songs we’ve all heard and make them new. Finding a new love for the classics Christmas songs really puts me in the spirit.


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

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