An Ode To Donny Hathaway and “This Christmas” » VSB

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An Ode To Donny Hathaway and “This Christmas”



If you know like I know you don’t want to step to this Christmas season doesn’t officially begin until the first time I play Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas”, his 1970 single (that he wrote with Nadine McKinnor) that tanked upon release but over time has become as vital to the Christmas season as Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. For me, this first spin can occur anywhere from mid-July to Thanksgiving Day.

From the opening horns and drums, you know its about to go down. Your head might nod because your neck knows its phat. Your foot might tap. Your hips might unconsciously sway a little bit. It’s impossible not to feel good about…something…when it comes on. The song is perfect. When I think of Christmas, I immediately think of “This Christmas,” The Temptations “Silent Night,” and the Whispers “Happy Holidays To You.”

Let’s kick some actual factuals, though. Donny Hathaway is my favorite singer of all time. You care. While my starting five might change depending on my mood, Donny Hathaway (and typically Phyllis Hyman) are always in that number, no matter what. Donny’s voice is as close to heavenly as you can get. While I don’t know if G’z get to go to heaven (cuz I don’t want to die), I’m pretty sure that everybody who does get in gets a free non-ad subscription to Spotify with a suggested “Accepted In Heaven” Playlist and this song is included along with a few songs by the Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Boston, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, Stevie, and oddly enough “Party Rock” by LMFAO.

(I just made all that up by the way.)

And just to prove to you all that I’ve been real with mine for an uber long time, this post from 2009 shows me putting Donny Hathaway at number one my list of voices that need to be recognized (while it also shows me using Dontavious as my middle name even back then for folks thinking that’s a new thing).

1) Donny Hathaway

I swear, this is one of the few grown ass men who’s ever brought a tear to my eyes, with the other being my father after an asswhippin’. Donny had one of the most beautiful voices EVER. So clear, so beautiful. So fresh and so clean clean. In fact, Donny’s voice was so good, he didn’t feel like he deserved it anymore and jumped out of a window of a hotel in New York City in January of 1979.

Rude joke aside, you get my point. Donny is my dude.

I’m not adept enough with the synonyms to accurately describe his voice as anything other than Godly. In my estimation, the good Lord himself was cookin’ voices in his kitchen, came across perfection, pointed to St. Louis and Donny Hathaway was born who ended up taking his talents to Washington, DC’s Howard University and Chicago and New York to make my life better when I was fortunate enough to discover him.

In fact, I remember listening to “A Song For You” something like 200 times in a row because it drew that much emotion out of me. I wasn’t depressed or anything (its a sad ass song) but my goodness, Donny, you went and made that song yours. I’ve got all of his musics because how can you love Donny and not have all of his musics. I’ve ordered albums from Japan (Come Back Charleston Blue soundtrack) and special ordered collector’s only versions of albums. In my home hangs an article from 1970 speaking about the emergence of Donny.

I’m just saying that the love is real. It’s, like, real real. Which means you know its real. Real real.

Very few artists have impacted me the way he did. And I owe a debt of gratitude to one of my best friends who gave me a Donny master’s class our freshman year in college. I’d heard the name but never really paid attention until my boy Adrian (the one who penned this letter) really put me on game as Donny is one of his favorite artists as well. The rest, as they say, is history. My life changed for the better that day and was never the same because Donny Hathaway changes lives. His voice is so pure and soulful. While he only has three main solo releases (1970’s Everything Is Everything, 1971’s Donny Hathaway, and 1979’s Extension Of A Man), his live recordings and albums with Roberta Flack are must haves. Hip-hop heads will recognize the samples from Scarface’s “My Block” from Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway’s “Be Real Black For Me” and T.I.’s “What You Know” from Roberta Flack’s “Gone Away”, both written and arranged by Donny Hathaway.

To this day there is NEVER not a good time to listen to “Thank You Master (For My Soul)”, or “Giving Up” or “A Song For You”, or basically anything he’s ever touched. Trust me, I’m a blogger.

And “This Christmas” is emblematic of that perfect gift. He intended to create a beautiful Christmas song and #wallahmagic, done. I’d wager that there isn’t a Black household in America (maybe a few of you ingrates, probably folks like Lawrence Otis Graham, Ben Carson, and Armstrong Williams) where this song doesn’t show up at least ONE solid time during the holiday season. It’s that infectious. It plays in Macy’s and CVSs. When I visited my mother in Michigan, in as white an enclave as possible, I heard this song playing in the gas station when I went to pick up milk at 10pm and hoped the place didn’t get robbed later that evening because I knew if that happened, I’d have spent Thanksgiving in jail. I like to think that Donny kept the store safe and me out of jail that night.

It’s jovial. It’s warm. It’s the blues in your left thigh trying to become the funk in your right. It’s the real shit, shit to make you feel shit, bump it in the club shit, have you wildin’ out (shit). Thugs play this in their cars for their kids during Christmas right after Migos. Thugs play this in the car for their other thug homies during Christmas right after Migos. Real talk, I have a homeboy from home who got a little bit of thug in him. On one trip back home some years ago, we got in the car heading to do hoodrat things withour friends and lo and behold, the homey threw on “This Christmas”, confusing all of us in the car. He looked at us like, “oh you niggas too good for ‘This Christmas’? Panama, I know you ain’t, I know this is your boy and I’ve been in your house listening to this eating your food and drinking your father’s fine liquors.” My father does keep a stash.

It’s a universal Christmas song infused with soul to keep you afloat.

One last final note of how awesome “This Christmas” is (even though I know you already know). The other day, as I was rolling in my 5.0 (I do not own a 5.0), “This Christmas” came on the radio. My daughter says, “Daddy, can you turn this up? I know it’s Christmas when I hear this song!”


Heart melted. My daughter (and by extension all of my children) are being raised right when they recognize the necessity and importance of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” as vital to the Christmas experience. Because it is.

RIP to my favorite artist of all time, and thank you for all of the beautiful Christmas memories and future shenanigans.

To Donny. To “This Christmas”.

Donny…is life.

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly (and gorgeous) for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. He refuses to eat cocaine chicken. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future. You can hit him on his hitter at

  • Valerie

    THIS IS MY FAVORITE CHRISTMAS SONG. Because of this I am extremely critical when it comes to other verisons. I have yet to hear another version that is as good as Donny’s.

    • panamajackson

      I don’t expect that I ever will though I do enjoy other artists covers like The Temps or even Usher’s.

      • Valerie

        Now I LOVE both the Temps and especially “I skip leg day” Usher but I still don’t feel it. Donny’s version makes me so happy.

        • Val

          “Donny’s version makes me so happy.”


    • PriceIsRightHorns

      I agree – no one can touch Donny’s version.

      • Valerie

        NO ONE!!!

  • PriceIsRightHorns

    I love Donny and I listen to Someday We’ll all be Free and the live version of You’ve Got a Friend daily.

    This Christmas is the best Christmas song ever. Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer by the Temptations is in my top five.

  • Val

    ^5 on the Lawrence Otis Graham shade.

    I can barely tolerate xmas music but this song transcends xmas music. Donny was an amazing talent. Thanks to Unsung I learned his story and unfortunately that talent was accompanied by equal amounts of pain. Such a shame and a shame that we all lost him way before his time. RIP Donny.

    • Lea Thrace

      “this song transcends xmas music”

      man this phrase is so incredibly true.

    • PriceIsRightHorns

      I have seen every episode of Unsung and none of them touched me the way that Donny’s and The DeBarge episodes did.

      • Val

        Same except I’ll add Phyllis Hyman’s episode to that list.

        • PriceIsRightHorns


      • PhDivaLife

        I love Unsung and those early shows were the best (DeBarge, Donny etc..) The show is losing a lot of its quality. They put out the list for the next season of Unsung. Fat Joe (no words)? James Brown (who already has a biopic)? SWV? (who just had a reality show in the past year). It was on Facebook last night and people were going in…

        I don’t know if it’s due to artists seeing it as a come-up to get their names back out there or if the producers just don’t feel like doing the work of putting together shows about those that have been somewhat forgotten/totally disappeared from the scene, but the stories lately definitely are not as good as it was when it started.

        • PriceIsRightHorns

          Fat Joe…nah. James Brown is unsung? How Sway? I don’t consider Rick James unsung either, but I still enjoyed the episode.

          I think they can dig deeper and showcase artists that are truly unsung.

          • PhDivaLife

            Yeah, I definitely want to see those. I think the After 7-Babyface dynamic and the BlackStreet-Dave Hollister dynamic will make those stories really interesting.

        • 7EightyOne

          Soulja Boy unsung coming spon

        • Blueberry01

          I just saw (on YT) the one for Bone Thugs N’ Harmony. I thought it was pretty good.

    • Tasha Lawrence?

      I LOVE Christmas music by Bonney M,

      Felis navidad. Felix navidad. Felis Navidad. Posperhino felissy dad. I wanna wish a Merry Christmas. I wanna make you a Happy Christmas?????

      • Val

        Bonney M?

        • Tasha Lawrence?

          Carribean group comprised of 4 members that were based in Germany eons ago. They have classics.

      • blueevey

        That song is either hit or miss for me. Sometimes i love it, sometimes not so much.

        Also, the Spanish is off and I have to fix it because mexican. And caring.

        *Prospero año y felicidad

        • Tasha Lawrence?

          I wrote it how I sing it. Thanks for the fixage.

          • Blueberry01


      • Blueberry01

        …from the bottom of my hearrrttt…

        • Tasha Lawrence?

          You get me!!!?

    • Paul

      You know Lawrence Otis Graham changes the channel when that song comes on, but no way Ben Carson and Armstrong Williams don’t get down to that song. Don’t forget the black jesus in Ben Carson’s house!

      • Val

        “…You know Lawrence Otis Graham changes the channel when that song comes on…”

        Lol! That’s funny because it’s true. I totally agree he changes the station.

      • Wise Old Owl

        I doubt it…Donny was one of Lawrence’s beloved Frats…he has loves for his Alpha Brother…

  • Donny is everything to me — his version of Jealous Guy…..unreal. Watching his Unsung episode almost did me in and I can’t help but hear his pain in every song. Thank you for communicating exactly how I feel about him and his voice.

  • will_the_thrill

    I, too, was put onto Donny (with that greatest hits CD) during my freshman year at Morehouse. I was looking like… ummm…. why this dude sing so good?

  • panamajackson

    You know, I appreciate that Donny got an Unsung episode. But his is a story that I’d actually really like to see turned into a movie. And not like that faux-story Miles Davis joint or even the Jimi Hendrix one, but like somebody putting together a real movie about his life and untimely and unfortunate death. This man influenced so many people. SO many people.

    • Val

      That would be great but biopics about Black folks are so hit and miss, as you alluded to. He was a complicated guy. I’d be worried they wouldn’t do his life and talent justice. But, if the right filmmaker made the film it could be great.

      • PinkRose

        Agreed, they would need to talk a LOT about the role of mental illness, to do this story proper justice IMHO.

      • Janelle Doe


    • Which Jimi Hendrix movie? The one with Wood Harris was great.

      • cyanic

        His estate won’t allow a real Hendrix biopic to come to pass. The last one was with Andre Benjamin.

        • fedup

          I thought that was a good one. Andre was great in that role.

        • He had the mannerisms but without the music it felt like diet Jimi

    • Madame Zenobia

      I keep saying they need a 30 for 30 version of Black music. I said that when you wrote about DeVante. Each director/producer gets to pick an artist and write a love letter episode to them or explore something unique about the story the average person doesn’t know. Not just biographical Unsungs or Behind the Musics.

      • Bettyflandry

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      • Kathrynjschwartz

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    • Wise Old Owl

      The Alpha Man was a true Musical Genius and Left Us Too Soon…His songs are full love and uplift of All Mankind…

    • Betty’s Babygirl

      If the family was on board and the music rights were obtained. it has a fighting chance to be epic. As far as I know his wife is still living and of course his daughter’s Lalah and Kenya.


      My favorite song by HIM EVER….My husband is a former East New York thug (because he’s grown and married now) and when we first started dating, I put this on a mix tape for him…fast forward to about 5 years ago… he played it for me and told me that every word of this song is how he feels for me. He isn’t the mushy, emotive type…but as he held my hand as we sat on the couch…I couldn’t have felt more loved.

      Thank you for this. He doesn’t get the propers that he deserves.

      • Betty’s Babygirl

        “…a former East New York thug”.
        He is now a Refined Thug. He’s comfortable in a suit and or Tims and a hoodie and in all environs. However, if you step wrong he gone get ya right. Brooklyn is in your blood. No disrespect to the other boroughs and you too Staten Island(intended shade).

        • Welp…there it IS!!!

          I’m hollering!!

          • Betty’s Babygirl

            In your own immortal words:
            *in my Milli Vanilli voice* Giiiirl, you knooooow it’s truuuue! lmao

              • Betty’s Babygirl

                YASSSSSS! You are a VERY lucky woman. Ain’t nothing like a refined hood. I was raised by a man who wrote the book on how to be a “G”. Wasn’t no real guide when he fled north at 16. The current flock of pretenders to the thrown don’t know $hit about it. They can’t even get the first rule correct:Take care of home first and foremost and don’t let what you do in the street EVER follow you home.

                • It took a long time for me to understand that even though my daddy wasn’t too far from that…I heard crazy shyt about him and I was thinking.. “Him?”

                  I knew he wasn’t a punk but some of this stuff was unfathomable… some things I don’t need to see to believe. ???

                  This is us when he surprised me with a getaway for our anniversary this year!


                  • Betty’s Babygirl

                    On this string I said everyone deserves to be loved the way Donny sings about it on “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”. This pic and your previous post is the epitome of just that. Continued blessings for you and your family.

                    P.S. Yeah he’s a “Refined Thug”.

                    • You just made me cry! Fuuuuuuuck! ?

                    • Betty’s Babygirl

                      Truth is truth, “hugs and a tissue”.

                  • FeeFee

                    You two make a beautiful couple.

                  • Tasha Lawrence?


                  • BooBooBaby

                    Must be nice!
                    I still haven’t known my real dad!

                    P.s. cute picture! ? :)

              • BooBooBaby

                I am embarrassed for her…IT!
                P.s.I was talking about that pic you posted….and who she/he is! Lmao! ;)

      • Tasha Lawrence?

        LMAO @the thug reference. Why you ain’t got no chills mamacita?!?! Why?!?

        • Lmao… it’s amazing to see his transformation…like AMAAAAAZING..we’ve not had an easy road but that is my ni66a… I love my Brooklyn Bae. ?

          • Tasha Lawrence?

            Aaaaaaaaye!!! You have no choice other than that boo.?

          • BooBooBaby

            OH yesss I know exactly what you mean! Oh man….when you see your man make that transformation….it is amazing! I tell you it is nice not to worry or be scared anymore! I used to be so stressed out! I am so happy my man is finally on the straight and narrow! I hate being scared and worried!

    • Chelsea Burwell

      I feel this way as well. In watching the Unsung episodes of Donny Hathaway and Phyllis Hyman, I grew a bigger appreciation for their distinct voices and their internal struggles. Because Black mental health is…. a beast that isn’t confronted like it should be. In concurrence with you, who do you think would do the best portrayal of Donny? And of Phyllis?

      Sidenote: Phyllis was GORGEOUS! Wardrobe game unmatched!

  • miss t-lee

    An all time Christmas fave. It’s not technically Christmas in my world until I hear “This Christmas”. And I ONLY wanna hear Donny’s versions. Keep all them other covers and remakes far away from me.

    • All the other versions are trash. Donny’s version with The Temps “Silent Night”, Charles Brown’s two Christmas songs, and Otis’ “White Christmas” are the only songs I need to hear this time of year.

      • miss t-lee

        Trash, indeed.

        Very good selections.

      • AthrillofHope

        I love Nat King Cole’s Christmas Album. I play that on rotation all the time.

        • miss t-lee

          His and Ella Fitzgerald’s.

      • Blueberry01

        I love the Jackson 5’s Little Drummer Boy.

  • How you gonna leave out, “Christmas in Hollis”, Mr. Jackson? Anyway, you’re right. It just isn’t Christmas until I hear this song and subsequently play it every day (thanks spotify). I played “A Song for You” at my weading and it still hits me in the feels every freaking time.

    • As the resident native of Hollis in these comments, I’ll go in on this.

    • That song and “Santa Go Straight to the Ghetto”(Dogg Pound version) are two of my favorites.

  • My liking of the holidays has ebbed in the last few years but this song is still amazing. It’s in the top five of my Christmas favs. Once you hear “This Christmas” and the Temps version of “Silent Night” it’s on.

    *Sidenote* I just found out the other day that Leon Russel wrote “A Song for You” and not Donny.

    • Amy Winehouse has a version of “A Song For You” that is pretty good. She was also a huge Donny fan.

      • Val

        I bet a Christmas album from her would have been a classic.

      • I miss Amy.

    • TeeChantel

      The Temps version of Silent Night is just amazing. My favorite group of all time. My parents got to see the original Temps live at a concert back in the day. Jealous isn’t even the word I’d want to use.

    • Cheech

      Another guy that 2016 got.

  • FeeFee

    Top 4 best Christmas songs for me is Nat King Cole-Merry Christmas, Sharon Carpenter–Merry Christmas darling, Donny Hathaway-And this Christmas, Mariah Carey–All I want for Christmas.

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