Soul Serenade - Donny HathawayIt’s a sad old world, isn’t it? Everywhere you look there’s violence and hatred, war and famine. But every once in awhile you hear a story that demonstrates the basic goodness of people, and it makes your heart soar because it gives you hope, and hope is an elusive thing these days. Just when you think love is lost, you look around at your family and friends and realize that love is not lost at all. It’s right there in your heart.

I’m going to appreciate the peace of Christmas more than I ever have this year. It’s a time to put aside the animus and fill our hearts with light and love, if only for one day. But here’s the thing; if we can all do it on Christmas, maybe we can do it the day after Christmas, and the day after that, and the day after that. Before we know it, peace and love will become the normal way of things, and not the exception. Come on, it’s not hard to do, because deep down inside, it’s what we all want.

I’ve told the story of Donny Hathway before in this column. You know the story of how he lit up the sky with his brilliance for just a moment before his light flickered out far too soon. Among the many great songs that Donny left us was a new standard for the season called “This Christmas.”

Donny Hathaway

“This Christmas” was written by Donny (as Donny Pitts) and Nadine McKinnor, and released as a single by Atco Records in 1970. The song was recorded in Chicago in the fall of that year. Donny was in an upbeat mood during the session, and his intention, to make a statement regarding the the representation of African American people in Christmas music, was clear.

Nadine McKinnor felt blessed to have written a song with Donny “that celebrates the possibilities, the expectations, and the anticipation of Christmas, and the good fun and happy loving times.” She added that the song was a “God plan,” and that Donny Hathaway was a genius.

Despite the great song, and the arrayed studio talent at Audio Finishers Studio that included Phil Upchurch on guitar, drummers Morris Jennings and Ric Powell, baritone sax player Willie Henderson, and trombonist Louis Satterfield, along with Donny on keyboards and bass, “This Christmas” wasn’t much of a hit. The only chart it made was Billboard’s Special Christmas Singles chart, where it peaked at #11.

Interest in “This Christmas” was renewed in 1991 when Atco reissued an expanded version of their 1968 Soul Christmas album that included the song. Since then “This Christmas” has gone on to become a holiday standard. In fact, ASCAP has reported that it is the 30th most performed holiday song of all time.

There have been cover versions of “This Christmas” by Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Temptations, Patti LaBelle, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, and many other artists. The biggest hit among the covers was Chris Brown’s 2007 version, recorded for the film of the same name, which reached #74 on the Billboard Hot 100.

So this is Christmas, and I wish the peace of the day for you, and everyone you love. Remember to keep that peace in your heart on Christmas, and the day after Christmas, and the day after that, and the day after that, until the day comes that peace is the only way of things.

About the Author

Ken Shane

Ken Shane lives in Narragansett, R.I. He is a freelance writer and far and away the oldest Popdose writer. In fact, he may be the oldest writer, period. He wants you to know that he generally does not share his colleagues' love for the music of the '80s, and he does not forgive them for loving it. (Ken passed away in November 2022. R.I.P. —Ed.)

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