The modern holiday standard “This Christmas” has been covered countless times, and it seems to be getting ever more popular. Everyone from Diana Ross to Chicago to CeeLo Green has made their own rendition. Green, like others before him, does a fine job with this soul carol, but perhaps it’s time to give the originator his due.
Donny Hathaway co-wrote “This Christmas” with Nadine McKinnor for a single issued in 1970, a year when he first gained fame for his song, “The Ghetto: Part 1.” For the yuletide tune, he and McKinnor smoothly fold a love song into a Christmas song, and set it to a memorable soul-jazz melody that would have made for a great song regardless of the topic.
Strings, horns and Hathaway’s own underrated piano came together in a fairly elaborate arrangement, which was his own. It’s all topped by Donny Hathaway’s own sincere, soulful vocal. The little horn statement that opens “This Christmas” and punctuates the refrain is the final touch that sets this apart from any other Yuletide song, or any other soul song crafted by anyone but Hathaway.
It’s all just a small part of the genius of a great soul man who departed much too early. Fortunately, Donny Hathaway left us with several memorable songs, including this one that – in some rendition or another – gets played more and more this time of year. In 2018, Hathaway received overdue recognition almost four decades after his death when the Grammys announced they’d honor him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
May you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends … this Christmas.