With the holidays in full gear, there are numerous ways for everyone to get into the Christmas spirit. Whether that’s those holiday house decorations from top to bottom or baking Monkey Bread to share with family, an unforgettable staple of the holiday is the music it inspires. Playing the best of the genre, from gospel classics like “Silent Night” to more pop-influenced ballads like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town," is a festive way to set the mood on December 25. Here are 10 anthems performed by Black artists to croon along to while opening presents and sharing time with the ones you love.
Mariah Carey, “All I Want For Christmas”
No one has done a Christmas song like Mariah. Released as the lead single from her first holiday album, Mariah Carey’s hit record “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is essential Christmas listening. The modern, upbeat love song was a chart-topper long after its release in 1994 and continues to be a global phenomenon, reaching the top spot year after year during the holiday season. Billboard has named the track the number one record on its “Greatest of All Time Holiday 100 Song" list.
Destiny's Child, "8 Days of Christmas"
As part of the only Christmas album released by Destiny’s Child, the song dropped as a single in December of 2001. The girls list the luxurious gifts they received this holiday season, complete with a candlelit dinner and a Mercedes. The song (and the album of the same name) has endured the test of time: it went platinum in 2020.
Whitney Houston, “Do You Hear What I Hear”
The genre-defying songstress first cut a record of “Do You Hear What I Hear” for a 1987 benefit holiday album titled A Very Special Christmas, but did you know this song originally advocated for unity in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis? This holiday classic became a large part of Christmas gospel music, which was one of Whitney Houston’s specialties since she was a member of New Hope Baptist Church’s junior gospel choir at age 11. Proceeds from the album went towards fundraising for the Special Olympics.
TLC, “Sleigh Ride”
TLC put their own crazy, sexy, cool spin on the 1950s hit “Sleigh Ride” with their signature upbeat style. This rendition is uniquely their own as the girls perform a new hook, new lyrics and an uptempo beat. The song is featured in the Home Alone 2 movie soundtrack, securing a place in 90s holiday pop culture, and is a must-listen for Hip Hop Family Christmas Wedding star Keri Hilson.
The Jackson 5, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
The Jackson 5’s rendition of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” has become one of the most popular versions since the song was first composed in 1952 by Tommie Connor. Lead singer Michael is innocently surprised at seeing his mother give Santa a kiss underneath the mistletoe. The group, comprised of a young Michael and four of his brothers included the cover song in their Christmas album released in 1970.
Stevie Wonder and Andra Day, "Someday at Christmas"
American funk and R&B pioneer Stevie Wonder’s first Christmas album, “Someday at Christmas,” debuted in 1967 as part of the Motown catalog. Wonder details his hopes for the future, including noble accomplishments such as world peace and true equality for all that have not yet come to pass. The poignant title track managed to cement its place within the top 30 Christmas singles in the 1960s. It had its own revival when Wonder did a duet version with Andra Day, recorded for an Apple TV commercial, in 2015.
Eartha Kitt, “Santa Baby”
Originally released in 1953, Eartha Kitt’s playful number “Santa Baby” is a must-listen during the holiday season. Penned by Joan Javits and Philip Springer, Kitt’s sultry vocals plead with Santa to fulfill her grandiose Christmas list, complete with the deed to a platinum mine and plenty of high-end decorations from Tiffany’s itself. Although it proved controversial at the time, its appeal proved strong enough to make its way onto the charts at number 4 and sell more than any other Christmas single released that year.
Ella Fitzgerald, “Frosty the Snowman”
Jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald recorded "Frosty the Snowman" while she was signed with Verve Records and brings the classic to new heights. First composed and performed in 1950 by Gene Autry, the song chronicles the story of a snowman coming to life thanks to a magical hat and a group of playful children. Fittingly, Fitzgerald recorded it in the summer of 1960, when Frosty would have to "come back again someday."
Nat King Cole, “The Christmas Song”
Although he first recorded the song with The Nat King Cole Trio in 1946, Nat King Cole’s fourth recording of "The Christmas Song" in early 1961 is the one that’s been widely embraced by the public. His baritone vocals and slow melody wish the listeners a merry Christmas. Commonly referred to by its opening line, “chestnuts roasting on an open fire," the song was inducted into the National Recording Registry in 2022 for its cultural significance.
The Temptations, “Silent Night”
Vocal supergroup The Temptations did their rendition of "Silent Night," a faith-based classic on their first Christmas album, titled The Temptations Christmas Card, in late 1970. It's the melodic combination of lead singers Eddie Kendricks with his amazing falsetto and Melvin Franklin, a founding member of the group that dialed in the baritone, that makes this song one of the best to hear during the holidays.