R&B Christmas Songs
R&B can mean different things to different people and is often defined by the decade that informs your thinking. To explain that last line it might be best to illustrate it using a trio of R&B Christmas songs. In the 1960’s you could articulate R&B Christmas music by ‘Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs’ album with its signature single ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’. This was rhythm and blues in its original form but this had evolved into a much more soulful version of itself by 1970 when the ‘Jackson 5 Christmas Album’ gave us so many of the songs we still hear today like ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ and ‘Frosty The Snowman’. Released the same year was Donny Hathaway’s ‘This Christmas’ wherein the R&B singer made the song his own despite the numerous covers that have followed in its wake.
Within a decade we had arrived at the smooth urban incarnation of R&B that has persisted to this day. A good example of which can be heard on the Bobby Brown led New Edition who released ‘Christmas All Over the World’ in 1985, an album which falls neatly into what is now known as contemporary R&B. And it is modern R&B artists who have really taken Christmas to their hearts. There are classic R&B Christmas albums no doubt, like the Temptations seminal ‘The Temptations Christmas Card’ from 1970, but with each new Christmas there are any number of R&B stars donning the festive gear and giving old classics a new twist.
Mary J Blige is especially fond of the season having given us a clutch of R & B Christmas songs over the years and a complete album ‘A Mary Christmas’ in 2013. Her duet with Andrea Bocelli on ‘What Child Is This?’ featured on his mega selling 2009 album ‘My Christmas'. More in keeping with her R&B leanings however is Blige’s ‘Christmas In The City’ which came out on the Special Olympics charity album ‘A Very Special Christmas 3’ in the late 1990's. Another R&B legend who had a soft spot for Christmas was Luther Vandross with his love for the season stretching back to his early days as an artist in the mid 1970’s when ‘May Christmas Bring You Happiness’ did everything except afford him a hit. He would return to the subject many years later as a successful R&B singer when his 1995 ‘This Is Christmas’ contained lots of self-penned originals including a duet with Darlene Love called ‘I Listen To The Bells’.
It would be impossible to discuss contemporary RnB Christmas songs without Mariah Carey who so invigorated the sound of Christmas with her 1994 album ‘Merry Christmas’. This was to a large degree thanks to the LP's main single ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ but this was release full of R&B gems including the diva’s beguiling ‘Silent Night’. Carey led the way on a raft of female urban artists having their way with the season including Rihanna (‘I Just Don't Feel Like Christmas Without You’), Toni Braxton (‘Christmas Time Is Here’), Monica (‘Grown-Up Christmas List’) and Faith Evans (‘O Come All Ye Faithful’). Girl groups such as En Vogue and Destiny’s Girl have also turned out impressive festive offerings, especially in the case of the latter whose 2001’s ‘8 Days of Christmas’ album bear testimony to.
R&B boy bands have been equally prolific in giving it their all come December, most famously when Boyz II Men released ‘Christmas Interpretations’ in the winter of 1993. The close harmony group even roped in their producer (and fellow R&B artist) Brian McKnight for vocal duty on their slow tempo rendition of ‘Let It Snow’. Incidentally McKnight would strike out on his own for several Christmas albums with his 2008 ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ concentrating on the secular numbers while 1998’s ‘Bethlehem’ had a much deeper religious tone.
While there does not appear to be many R&B compilations of note apart from 1993’s ‘Ultimate R&B Christmas’ you can always cherry pick your own collection from the online stores. Don’t forget Usher’s ‘Comin' For Xmas’, Al Green’s ‘The First Noel’, ‘World Christmas’ by R. Kelly, Cee Lo Green’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘What Christmas Means To Me’ and Babyface’s ‘White Christmas’ from his 1998 album ‘Christmas With Babyface’ when you are making the list and checking it twice.