MUSIC MONDAY: “Ultimate Soul of the Season” – The Black Christmas Soundtrack – Expanded Edition 2023

by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)

Welcome to the holiday season, Good Black News family!  We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving – and are counting down the 25 days of Christmas now that it’s December.

In what’s become a holiday tradition, we’ve updated our now massive Black Christmas music Spotify playlist with a whole heap of new songs. The month of November was spent searching far and wide across the internet for new releases, old classics now on Spotify, and other tunes and artists we missed in previous years.

So here it is – a refreshed and revived “Ultimate Soul of the Season – The Black Christmas Soundtrack – Expanded Edition 2023”.

We’ve now got over 700 songs across 40+ hours (and we’ll add more if some crucial tunes get released in the next few weeks) – with the goal to be one of the most definitive Black Christmas playlists around.

If you’re still subscribed to the list from a previous year, we’re here to let you know it’s now updated and bigger/better than ever.

If you’ve not subscribed, check it out while you are wrapping presents, baking cookies, decorating your tree, or just sitting cozily in front of a nice roaring fire, with football on mute in the next room.

As a reminder, we set out to make a mainstream Christmas radio station that you can use in the background all season long. But in the GBN tradition, the focus is on Black artists (plus occasional duet partners and a little Robin Thicke).

While other holiday radio focuses on Brenda Lee and Bing Crosby, we’ve got Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole. When they play Michael Buble, we play John Legend, or Hamilton star Leslie Odom.

Of course, we’ve got The Jackson 5, Donny Hathaway, the original Eartha Kitt version of “Santa Baby,” Stevie Wonder, and two different renditions of The Temptations doing “Silent Night.” And just like everyone else, Mariah Carey!

We’ve sequenced the list carefully – so that you don’t overload on the same songs, tempos or artists too frequently. You can just let it play – or hit shuffle. Or you can even use it as a base of songs to edit down into your own personal list of favorites.

In addition to soul and pop, there’s some jazz, some gospel, some blues, some a capella, and even disco, reggae and Black country in the mix. Hopefully you find all the classics you need, and some brand new surprises you didn’t know you wanted.

This year’s big new Christmas releases include albums from Brandy (currently starring in the new Netflix hit Best. Christmas. Ever!), jazz star Gregory Porter, and hot new soul star October London.

Ace producer Adam Blackstone has assembled an album with friends that include Keke Palmer and Boyz II Men. And on the traditional side, Grammy-winning Best New Artist Samara Joy has issued an EP, and the legendary Johnny Mathis has issued new tracks as well. We’ve got a couple songs from all of these.

Just released this past weekend was the lively new Amazon movie Candy Cane Lane, where Eddie Murphy reunites with director Reggie Hudlin for the first time since Boomerang over 30 years ago. From that movie, we’ve added two tracks: “Miracle” from Raphael Saadiq with vocals by British dance vocalist Kelli-Leigh; and “A Timeless Christmas” from former Disney child star turned Grammy-nominated adult singer Coco Jones.

Fans of classic ‘90s soul will appreciate new songs from “Don’t You Forget It” singer Glenn Lewis, Brit soulstress Gabrielle (of “Dreams” fame) and from LaTocha, formerly of Xscape, but now recording for Motown Gospel. Also bringing a gospel message in a pair of sweet recent holiday songs is Debbie Winans, the youngest of Mom & Pop Winans’ 10 children. You may remember her from the Angie & Debbie duo in the early ‘90s.

And there is new Patti Labelle too. In football crazy Philadelphia, Patti’s hometown, she joined The Philly Specials (comprised of several singing members of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles) in a charity duet remake of “This Christmas.”

Other familiar names joining the playlist include Jordin Sparks, Jason DeRulo, Syleena Johnson, Real Housewives’ Kandi (we had previously missed her “So Ready for Christmas” track from a decade ago), Keb Mo, Amber Riley (leading the “Glee” cast), Carl Thomas, Shaggy, jazz diva Nnenna Freelon, and gospel’s Le’Andria Johnson, as well as The McCrary Sisters (joined by Shirley Caesar). Among the newer generation of hitmakers with recent tracks for our list are Giveon, actress/singer Kiana Ledé, recent gospel star Jon Reddick, and young reggae hitmaker Chris Martin.

Also joining the list is the lovely 2019 ballad “First Christmas (That I Loved You)” from the Netflix movie Let It Snow, sung by actor Shameik Moore (of the Spiderverse animated movies). “Spend Christmas with You” also comes from an actor/singer – Texas’ Major Finley, known by the moniker MAJOR. and co-starred in Fox’s Star as well as appeared as Curtis Mayfield in the Aretha Franklin season of the cable TV series Genius.

We’ve also got a couple new songs from Alicia Keys. Her Santa Baby album was released for purchase last year, but only one song had made its way to Spotify. Now the whole album is available for streaming. And, digging through the (Spotify) crates, we’ve added some classic oldies from Ike & Tina Turner, Etta James, Jackie Wilson, Lowell Fulson, Carla Thomas, The Five Keys and Sugar Chile Robinson.

Every year, the mix of tunes on Spotify changes, due to licensing issues. Sometimes we lose songs already on the list, but at the same time gain songs made freshly available to streaming.  This year, we had to part with a couple tunes from Freddie Jackson’s holiday album – sadly no longer available on Spotify.

But – for the first time streaming is Teddy Pendergrass’ Christmas album (his final one), repped here by his upbeat “Joy to the World.” And making their return to streaming are a pair of early Luther Vandross holiday tracks (“At Christmas Time” & “May Christmas Bring You Happiness”) both recorded in the mid-70s during his time in a group simply named Luther.

Finally, one of the most enjoyable parts of seeking out new songs for the playlist is discovering new artists to offer, some of them truly fresh faces, while others have perhaps been working successfully in Europe.

We were excited to run across several 2nd generation artists to check out, including Bobby McFerrin’s daughter, Madison McFerrin. Madison has releases on Spotify dating back to 2016, but the boppy “Alone on Christmas” is her first holiday-themed release. The very successful European hitmaker Mabel is the daughter of ‘90s star Neneh Cherry – and brings us the 2021 ballad “Loneliest Time of Year.” And the members of soul quartet WanMor (with the brand new single “This Holiday”) are literally the four sons of Boyz II Men’s Wanya Morris.

Meanwhile, alt-soul singer Kadjha Bonet is half-sister to actress Lisa Bonet – and brings a gentle simplicity to last year’s ‘California Holiday’ EP, which features a lovely version of the infrequently covered Michael Jackson classic “Little Christmas Tree.”

Several of our other singers may already be familiar to fans of TV singing competition shows. Chris Blue (an innovative version of “We 3 Kingz!”), Anthony Evans (“Where Are You Christmas”) and Kyla Jade (powerful “Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday”) come from The VoiceTia Kofi (the pretty ballad “Lonely This Christmas” and the upbeat Britney Spears cover “My Only Wish”) comes from RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.  British-born/now American Alex Boye made his mark on America’s Got Talent covering Taylor Swift, but presents here an African-inspired “Little Drummer Boy.”

And then there’s 15-year-old Sara James from 2022’s season of “America’s Got Talent.” James, a recent finalist, is not actually American, but rather a young Black woman conquering the music charts in her native Poland, where she has successfully recorded in the Polish language. On our playlist, the bouncy pop song “Lovely Christmas” is actually a translated version of one of her Polish hits.

Elsewhere from overseas, Joy Denalane hails from Germany, The Mamas come from Sweden, sister group Shiikane are Nigerians raised in the UK, and Teni is a successful Nigerian star. Olivia Dean, a new star from the UK, already has over 3M Spotify followers (that’s more than Patti Labelle + Teddy Pendergrass combined!). She took “The Christmas Song” back onto the charts in the UK two years ago. The list also features multiple new songs from British alt-soul female vocalist, whose followers to date hail from all over Europe.

Among other new artists, most prominent on the list is the already Grammy-nominated a capella quartet King’s Return, from whom our playlist has multiple songs, including a version of the beautifully haunting British Christmas favorite, “Walking in the Air.” Also in the a capella style, an outfit called The Soul of Santa features LA jazz vocalist Paula Sanders in its take on “Skating” from A Charlie Brown Christmas fame.

We’re also introducing two new promising gospel-oriented family groups from the mid-Atlantic region. Trilogy is comprised of two sisters and a brother from the DC area who’ve just released an EP last month entitled Christmas Uncovered. And The Group Fire are five young men comprised of two sets of brothers from New Jersey with a fresh new EP called The Gift.

And from elsewhere around the US, neo-soul female vocalists are taking our list by storm, including Chicago’s Nola Adé, with her rendition of “Deck the Halls,” Seattle’s Choklate, with her mood-setting “Tis the Season,” and Los Angeles’ Baby Rose with her 2021 original “To: You.”

That’s a whole bunch of great new holiday music to check out along with all your favorites. So, heat up the hot chocolate, fire up the fireplace, trim the tree and enjoy the playlist. As The Whispers would say, “Happy Holidays to You!”