Aretha and Nancy sing Christmas

The Queen loudly embraced black pride symbolically and creatively. She’d don African clothing on magazine and album covers and sport her natural afro, an easily identifiable Afrofeminism statement. “Think,” 1968’s spiritual successor to “Respect,” is a feminist anthem that rides off the backing choirs cries for “freedom,” recalling King’s wishes from his “I Have a Dream” speech. Four years later, Young, Gifted and Black’s Elton John Aretha mix “Border Song (Holy Moses)” finds her harrowingly singing from the perspective of someone struggling in a foreign land: “There’s a man standing over there/ What’s his color, do you care/Holy Moses, can we live in peace.” This all happened during what’s considered her creative prime (1967-72), gems from an artist in the midst of a symbiotic relationship with a liberation movement.

Both Franklin and Wilson have extensive discographies, and not surprisingly both have contributed a wealth of music to the Christmas songbook. 

For your Christmas and holiday listening pleasure, sit back, relax, give a listen, and please join the choir.

In 2008, Aretha released her first Christmas album.

“Christmas is so special for so many reasons,’ Franklin tells NPR’s Farai Chideya. “Each time it comes around, you hear very, very little on me. I’m not in the mix. …There’s nothing on Aretha. [I thought], ‘Please, I’ve got to record some Christmas music.’ “

Her new album, This Christmas Aretha, features soulful takes on standards like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Ave Maria,” as well as Franklin’s personal favorites, “The Lord Will Make a Way” and “Angels We Have Heard On High.”

Nancy’s first Christmas album, A Nancy Wilson Christmas, was recorded and released in 2001.

It seems a little bit strange that an artist of Nancy Wilson‘s popularity and experience — she’s recorded more than 60 albums in various genres over the course of a 40-year career — would never have made a Christmas album. But this is indeed her first, and it’s as sweet-spirited and gently eclectic as you’d expect. Joined on several tracks by the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni Allstar Big Band and on others by the vocal quartet New York Voices, flutist Herbie Mann, and various other guest artists, Wilson takes highly predictable elements and creates an original and multifaceted pastiche out of them. From the bossa nova rendition of “White Christmas” to the dense vocal arrangements on “Silver Bells,” Wilson manages to keep things both interesting and fun. The fact that her voice remains as powerful and nuanced as ever doesn’t hurt, either.                

All Through The Night is often sung at Christmas. It is a lullaby, which has come to us from the Welsh Ar Hyd y Nos.

Oh Holy Night is one of my favorite Christmas songs. I wrote about it here in “‘O Holy Night’—a gift to us from a Christian, a Jew and an abolitionist.”

“O Holy Night” is a well-known Christmas carol composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by Placide Cappeau (1808–1877), a wine merchant and poet, who had been asked by a parish priest to write a Christmas poem. Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight, editor of Dwight’s Journal of Music, created a singing edition based on Cappeau’s French text in 1855. In both the French original and in the two familiar English versions of the carol, the text reflects on the birth of Jesus and of mankind’s redemption.

Here’s Aretha with Billy Preston, who left us in 2006.

The Christmas Song, known to many as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” is a classic associated with Nat King Cole. Here’s Nancy’s delightful version:

A young Aretha recorded her cover in 1964.

There are far too many wonderful tunes from these two divas for me to post here. Hope you enjoyed the samples.

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate, and happy holidays to all!

Please feel free to post and share your favorite holiday musical gifts in the comments.

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