Nothing says "home for the holidays" like curling up with a mug of something warm, and putting on some holiday tunes. Reuben Jackson and VPR Music have you covered with a "genre-free" playlist, sure to make your holidays merry and bright!
Along with the playlist, we've asked Reuben to explain some of his suggestions — so press play, read along and enjoy!
A note from Reuben:
“I consider the holidays to be a kind of thematic and emotional combo platter. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a house where genre was considered a doorway to increased musical enjoyment, as opposed to a prison, I never really learned how to segregate music. Simply put, these are songs and artists, I love.”
— Reuben Jackson
"Christmas Eve" — Billy Eckstine
“Billy Eckstine’s voice is smoother than top shelf eggnog, and as evocative as a winter night In Vermont. Need I say more? Put the children to bed and listen…”
"I Want To Come Home For Christmas" — Marvin Gaye
“I am a Washington, D.C. native, as was Marvin Gaye. I once told a friend that I considered his voice an aural skyscraper — a fount of longing.”
"Dear Mister Santa Claus" — Hank Jones
“Detroit-born pianist Hank Jones was — and is — invention and sublime lyricism personified. I have it on good authority that Saint Nick has this reading of 'Dear' on his playlist.”
"Merry Christmas Baby" — Otis Redding
“My late brother and I used to argue the respective merits of artists found on Stax Records in Memphis, and those on Motown. I deeply loved the former — especially the late, Dawson, Georgia-born, soul drenched vocalist Otis Redding. Otis and the famed Stax horn section are expressing Yule-centered love, but this ember could well burn far beyond December.”
Christmas Here With You — Four Tops Aretha Franklin
“Consider the consistent soulful brilliance of the Four Tops’ lead singer Levi Strauss, Abdul Fakir, and, of course the one person choir that is Aretha Franklin present on this recording Who wouldn't want to spend Christmas Day with them, and this compelling sound.”
All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth — The Platters
“This vocal ensemble was a big part of my childhood. I have always loved this whimsical and characteristically lyrical version of 'All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teet.' Hope you do too.”
"O Holy Child" — Dusty Springfield
“As the old cliche goes, the late Dusty Springfield could sing the telephone book (remember those?) and break your heart. Even if you aren’t particularly religious, this performance lingers like a star-filled night.”
"Frosty The Snowman" — The Jackson 5
“Even as a child, Michael Jackson’s vocals fused believability and longing. I find myself pulling for a last-minute miracle — one that will save the snowman from melting. The snowman does, alas, not unlike my heart when I listen to this song.”
"One Little Christmas Tree" — Stevie Wonder
"As I have said more than once, (I can see my longtime friends scurrying for cover) vocalists are also storytellers. Great vocalists bring the text and melody to life… Soul stirring life. Here is yet another example of Mr. Wonder’s manner of creating an aural hearth."
"Driving Home For Christmas" — Michael Ball
“Michael Ball’s 'Driving Home For Christmas' perfectly captures the joy and reflection a journey home during the holidays conjures. It is his musical vision, but I know I have been there. You probably have as well.”
"Rain On Christmas" — David Sanborn"
"This rare Sanborn original highlights his undervalued technical abilities, and his ever-emotional sound. It will make you wish for rain on Christmas day.”
"This Christmas" — Donny Hathaway
“This Donny Hathaway composition is, quite simply, a holiday standard. Like all great vocalists, you believe every word and phrase.”
"Sleigh Ride" — Leroy Anderson
“An old friend once referred to this composition as 'instrumental joy and whimsy'. I completely agree.”
"Greensleeves" — John Coltrane
“John Coltrane — featured here on soprano saxophone (orchestra arranged and conducted by saxophonist Eric Dolphy) — infuses the old English folk song 'Greensleeves' with a kind of wistful warmth.”
"White Christmas" — Charlie Parker
“I love the hip, bebop-tinged warmth found in saxophonist Charlie Parker’s take on the Irving Berlin evergreen.”
"Nutcracker Suite" — Duke Ellington
"The Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s 'Nutcracker' is a must. Here is a taste of their arranging brilliance, and the Ellington Orchestra’s musical magic.”
"The Mistletoe And Me" — Isaac Hayes
“In my next life, I want a warm, melodic, sensual voice similar to that which the late Isaac Hayes possessed. Until then, I can bathe in this Christmas gem. So can you.”
"Slipping Into Christmas" — Leon Russell
“The late pianist-vocalist-composer Leon Russell’s original is bluer than a Christmas tree without lights. But compellingly so.”
"Christmas Song" — Rahsaan Roland Kirk
“Multi-reed player Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s take on 'The Christmas Song' always makes me want to snuggle with the warmth and beauty pouring out of his tenor sax.”
"Ave Maria" — Stevie Wonder
“In which a very young Stevie Wonder caresses the lyric and melody in a way that would, as my junior high band teacher used to say, 'make a statue cry.'”
"Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" — Ella Fitzgerald
“Here, the ever swinging First Lady of Song makes you forget all about any snow-based anxiety you might harbor. 'Let It Snow', indeed!”
"Ave Maria" — Jo Stafford
“A reprise of 'Ave Maria' by one of the greatest vocalists-storytellers-Jo Elizabeth Stafford. A great example of what Duke Ellington called 'soul on soul.'”
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