Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Donny Hathaway recorded “This Christmas” in 1970, which was embraced as the first black Christmas carol, authored and performed by African Americans.
It took a few years, but the song eventually achieved a level of success that greatly exceeded Hathaway’s dreams. 50 years later, “This Christmas” is recognized as a holiday standard, one that’s been recorded by a diverse group of artists including Destiny’s Child, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Lady A, and more recently Pentatonix, Pink Sweat$, and Jess Glynne, just to name a few.
This holiday season, Rhino is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the yuletide classic with a new animated music video!
Animated by cartoonist Lonnie Millsap, the clip stars Hathaway, his family (wife Eulaulah and young daughters Lalah and Kenya) and his hometown (Chicago). It’s peppered with visual references to Hathaway’s life and music. In one scene, he walks past shops in downtown Chicago where the store fronts offer up sly references to everything from his songs (“He Ain’t Heavy” Gym) to his daughter (Lalah’s Diner). In another scene, Hathaway plays with a group of children, just like he did in the photo on the cover of his 1970 debut, Everything Is Everything.
Watch the video here:
“I’m so excited! This is my Dad’s first ever music video! I’m thrilled for all the people who have loved this song forever and for all those who are just discovering this treasure. YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE IT! There are tons of Christmas/Chicago/Hathaway Easter eggs. Have fun hunting! Happy Holidays to everyone!!” says Lalah Hathaway.
The story of how “This Christmas” became a celebrated yuletide anthem for black America is an interesting one. The tune originated in 1967 when Nadine McKinnor, a songwriting postal worker in Chicago, wrote the lyrics and melody during the city’s historic blizzard. Three years later, her friend was decorating Hathaway’s home and office when it occurred to him that McKinnor should sing her songs for Hathaway. She did, and he immediately heard the potential in “This Christmas.”
In the fall of 1970, Hathaway composed the music and arrangement to “This Christmas” and entered the studio to record the song with some the city’s top musicians, including members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who play strings on the track. In early December, “This Christmas” was released as a non-album single on Atco Records. It peaked at #11 on Billboard’s Christmas Singles chart, but its major breakthrough was still more than 20 years away. The wheels for that success were set into motion in 1991, when “This Christmas” was added to a reissue of Atco’s 1968 Soul Christmas compilation. Since then, the song’s upbeat mix of blasting horns, surging strings and Hathaway’s sweet and soulful delivery have found a growing audience that transcends racial boundaries. Today, “This Christmas” is the 30th most-performed holiday song of all time.