‘Tis the season to be soulful as we unwrap the gift of timeless R&B Christmas classics that have warmed hearts and spirits for generations. From Mariah Carey’s iconic “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to the smooth harmonies of Boyz II Men in “Let It Snow,” each track on this list is a testament to the power of Christmas R&B.
The genre has had a place in traditional holiday music for decades. In the 1960s, pioneering artists like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke infused classic Christmas carols with their signature R&B sensibilities, which gave birth to a new genre of holiday music that resonated with audiences worldwide. The following decades saw rhythm and blues’ influence in Christmas music continue to thrive. Artists like Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston delivered timeless renditions of classic holiday songs, only further solidifying the genre’s place in the landscape. The ’90s saw the rise of contemporary R&B, which further expanded its presence in the holiday music scene. Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” became an instant hit, while Boyz II Men’s smooth harmonies brought a fresh take to “Let It Snow,” and their rendition became a staple on playlists.
Today, R&B Christmas classics continue to play a vital role in shaping the holiday music experience, as newer artists like Chris Brown and Summer Walker have infused their unique styles into the genre and created timeless records in the process. These contemporary renditions, while infused with modern components, retain the essence of the songs that came before them. They ensure that the genre’s legacy continues to thrive, keeping the spirit of R&B Christmas alive for generations to come. Without further ado, let’s unwrap the timeless gift of the 11 best R&B Christmas classics, and embark on a musical journey through the soulful sounds that have become synonymous with the season.
1. All I Want for Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey
When Mariah Carey stepped into the studio in 1994 to record “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” she was simply crafting a heartfelt expression of her love for the holiday season. Little did she know that this personal ode to Christmas would evolve into a global phenomenon, transcending its R&B origins to become one of the most beloved and recognizable Christmas songs of all time. Co-written and produced by Carey and Walter Afanasieff, the song’s infectious melody, infused with R&B and a touch of pop charm, quickly captured the hearts of listeners worldwide. Carey’s soaring vocals, imbued with both childlike innocence and adult yearning, perfectly conveyed the track’s message of love, joy and the enduring spirit of Christmas. Its widespread presence on the airwaves, from radio stations to holiday movie soundtracks, transformed the offering into an inescapable anthem, heralding the arrival of the holiday season every year.
2. This Christmas – Chris Brown
Chris Brown brought a fresh voice to the holiday season with his rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” Stepping outside the confines of his R&B roots, Brown’s soulful interpretation of the classic song has become a cornerstone in the genre. The track is also a staple within the landscape of Black Christmas films. Its release coincided with the movie of the same name, which further solidified its significance in the realm of holiday cinema. The song showcases Brown’s versatility and ability to pay homage to the rich musical history of the holiday season while infusing his unique style.
3. Silent Night – The Temptations
With their distinct soulful harmonies, The Temptations breathed new life into the timeless Christmas classic “Silent Night” in a rendition that continues to resonate over 40 years since its release. This iconic 1970 track not only highlights the warmth of R&B during the holiday season but also infuses the traditional carol with a soulful and emotional depth. The Temptations’ take on “Silent Night” remains a staple on every Black family’s Christmas playlist and it’ll continue to stand the test of time with its generational appeal!
4. Mistletoe – Justin Bieber
In 2011, amid the holiday season, Justin Bieber dropped a musical gift that would become a timeless addition to Christmas playlists worldwide — “Mistletoe.” This pop/R&B gem marked a pivotal moment in Bieber’s musical evolution since it showed his budding versatility and hinted at the genre-bending explorations that would later define his artistry. Before there was ever a Journals or an R&Bieber, “Mistletoe” served as a taste of his ability to seamlessly blend genres, infusing the classic holiday track with a contemporary pop and R&B flair. Over a decade later, “Mistletoe” stands as a Christmas classic.
5. Let It Snow – Boyz II Men
Boyz II Men’s rendition of “Let It Snow” stands as a testament to their ability to transform a timeless classic into an R&B-infused masterpiece. The group’s signature smooth harmonies — which seamlessly blend with the production brilliance of Brian McKnight — create a beautiful sonic experience that has become an integral part of every Black family’s holiday season. Their vocal prowess, which is characterized by their impeccable pitch and incredible delivery, elevated the song to new heights and solidified their place on the throne of R&B holiday classics.
6. 8 Days of Christmas – Destiny’s Child
Destiny’s Child’s “8 Days of Christmas” is a refreshing take on the classic song and perfectly mixes traditional festive themes with the group’s signature contemporary R&B sound. Their harmonious vocals create an infectious energy that makes the 2001 song irresistible. The production, led by Errol McCalla Jr., complements their vocals perfectly and adds a modern edge. McCalla’s use of synthesizers and drumbeats creates a dynamic instrumental for Destiny’s Child’s harmonies, while still maintaining the essence of the original track. With its catchy hooks, energy and modernized production, “8 Days of Christmas” is a true gem in the realm of R&B Christmas classics.
7. Every Year, Every Christmas – Luther Vandross
“Every Year, Every Christmas” by Luther Vandross is one of the few ballads on this list. Vandross effortlessly conveys the warmth and joy of the holiday season in this song. His silky, soulful voice infuses emotion into every note, delivering the message of seasonal love, togetherness and the joy of giving. Vandross’ passionate performance is nicely complemented by the arrangement, which has beautiful orchestration and piano accompaniment. After it was released in 1995, “Every Year, Every Christmas” soon became a fan-favorite, and its popularity spread far beyond the holiday season. Vandross’ interpretation has become synonymous with the festive message of hope and unity, and his voice serves as a soothing reminder of the true spirit of Christmas.
8. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Jackson 5
Jackson 5’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is a timeless holiday classic that still finds its way onto playlists decades after its release! Michael Jackson’s lead vocals are filled with youthful energy and excitement, which perfectly captures the anticipation and enthusiasm of Christmas morning. The song’s upbeat tempo, catchy melody and Motown production create an irresistible groove that has made it a holiday staple. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” quickly became a hit, reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and was a defining moment in the Jackson 5’s early career.
9. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Toni Braxton and Babyface
Toni Braxton and Babyface epitomize musical soulmates. Their duet on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is a masterclass in heartfelt renditions of holiday classics. Braxton’s silky smooth vocals and Babyface’s soulful baritone merge perfectly, creating a cozy version of the iconic song and a harmonic symphony that highlights their effortless chemistry. Since it dropped, the track has become a staple on radio stations and R&B holiday playlists.
10. No Time Like Christmas – Chris Brown
Chris Brown’s “No Time Like Christmas” is a beloved modern R&B offering and one of the few original holiday songs on this list. A catchy melody and upbeat production complement Brown’s smooth vocals and infectious energy, creating a song that is both traditional and contemporary. The lyrics, co-written by Brown and Melvin Moore, express gratitude for the simple joys of the season and emphasize the importance of spending time with loved ones. The combination of the modern production and Brown’s signature vocal style appeals to a younger generation of listeners, while finding its place on traditional Christmas playlists, too!
11. Santa Baby – Summer Walker
Summer Walker’s sultry rendition of “Santa Baby” adds a seductive twist to the holiday season. Her vocals infused with a touch of R&B sensuality create an enchanting atmosphere that reimagines the classic song with modern flair. Her delivery is both playful and seductive, capturing the essence of the original lyrics while adding a touch of her unique style. Released in 2022, as part of Love Renaissance’s Home for the Holidays, Vol. 2 compilation, Walker’s rendition quickly caught the attention of music fans. It has become a modern R&B holiday classic.