Donny Hathaway’s ‘This Christmas’ turns 50; new video celebrates the song — and Chicago

The iconic holiday song was released on Dec. 9, 1970, by the late Chicago keyboardist-singer-composer.

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The late Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” is being celebrated on its 50th anniversary.

Rhino

It’s become a holiday classic, and on Wednesday, Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Released on Dec. 9, 1970, on ATCO Records, the song was penned by the late Hathaway and lyricist Nadine McKinnor, and recorded at Chicago’s Audio Finishers Studio on Ontario Street.

In honor of the anniversary, Rhino Records has released an animated video featuring Hathaway strolling the streets of Chicago on his way to a gig, eventually making his way home to his family for a Christmastime celebration.

The video (with images by cartoonist Lonnie Millsap) includes several Chicago homages including a Garrett’s Popcorn vendor, State Street, Harold’s Chicken Shack, and a few other area storefronts you might recognize.

While the song’s initial release garnered modest success, it became a widespread favorite in 1991 when it was re-released on ATCO Records’ album“Soul Christmas.”Soon afterward, the song became one of the most popular holiday tunes/videos, covered by dozens of artists including Gloria Estefan, Chris Brown, Mary J. Blige, Fantasia,Usher, John Legend, Aretha Franklin, Christina Aguilera, Diana Ross and Hathaway’s daughter,Lalah Hathaway.

In a 2009 interview with the Sun-Times, drummer/percussionist Ric Powell, who was part of the Chicago recording session for the song in 1970, said: “Donnywas very upbeat during the session. He knew what he wanted to do musically and the impact he wanted to make withthissong. Up until then African American music wasn’t represented inChristmas. There was Nat King Cole and Charles Brown’s ‘I’ll Be Home forChristmas.’ During the mid-1960s, James Brown was also cutting holiday tracks like ‘Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,’ but they were more in the self-contained funky spirit of the Godfather of Soul thanChristmas.”

Hathaway died in 1979 in New York after falling from the balcony of his hotel room, the victim of an apparent suicide. He was 33.

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