A Festive Selection of Holiday Albums from the Duke Arts Staff

Holiday Album Recommendations

The Spirit of Christmas (1985)

Ray Charles

Recommended by:

John V. Brown

Vice Provost for the Arts

In all of music, I contend that there is no more soulful singer than Ray Charles. Indeed there are others who are soulful, but no one is more soulful than he is. It is a delight to hear him to offer his unique and sincere take on these big band arrangements of beloved, time tested selections; plus some I’ll bet you’ve never heard. Enjoy!

Listen on Spotify→

Street Carols (1991)

Stormy Weather

Recommended by:

Paul Kartcheske

Production Manager

An a cappella recording that has a classic feel, harmonies that work their magic on songs new and old, featuring Jerry Butler, the Spaniels, the Chi-Lites, and David Somerville.  Stormy Weather, who not only organized the doo wop project, also sang five (5) of the fifteen (15) selections, including the original “Street Carols” that sounds like stepping back to a 1950’s street corner.

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Have a Crazy Cool Christmas (2009)

Kermit Ruffins

Recommended by:

Aaron Shackelford

Director of Programming

Forget New York or Chicago; for my money New Orleans is the most beautiful city during the holidays (plus you don’t even need a coat). This album from one of the contemporary fixtures of New Orleans jazz, Kermit Ruffins, gives a delightful twist to Christmas classics. My personal favorite track is “What Will Santa Say When He Finds Everybody Swingin’,” which is a 1936 song from NOLA native Louis Prima that Ruffins makes sound right at home in today’s Treme.

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The Bells of Dublin (1991)

The Chieftains

Recommended by:

Frances Howorth

Director of Marketing and Communications

What can I say? I have a soft spot for Irish traditional music. I grew up with this album and still listen to it throughout the holiday season. It’s filled with gorgeous voices, unexpected instrumentations, familiar and unfamiliar tunes – it’s just a great listen. Favorite tracks include “The Rebel Jesus” (featuring Jackson Browne) and “Il Est Né / Ca Berger” (featuring Anna McGarrigle and Kate McGarrigle).

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The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album (1964)

The Beach Boys

Recommended by:

Bren Vienrich-Felling

CAST: Digital Content Creator and Coordinator

As someone who tends to feel the winter moody blues and is already a year-round brooding indie music listener (with a sprinkle of Urbano Latino music b/c what can I say, I am a Peruana at heart), this Beach Boys album is a pick-me-up album that keeps me above water during holiday outings. I recommend the songs “Little Saint Nick” and “The Man with All the Toys.” All of these songs are Christmas tunes within the traditional, lyrical sense, but within the vein of pop surf rock psychedelia. So, I recommend you crank it up, pour yourself some Fernet Branca or mulled wine because tis’ the season, and lay on the floor with a plush warm blanket draped over your face. You deserve it, the year is almost over.

Listen on Spotify→

Happy Xmas (War is Over) (1971)

John & Yoko/The Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir

Recommended by:

Anna Wallace

Student Engagement Coordinator

I grew up listening to this beautiful single and playing it on the piano for family every year. In this moment we all dream of peace and “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” brings me hope and joy. The B-side, “Listen, the Snow is Falling” features Ono’s beautiful falsetto and is like a tender hug for the whole world.

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One Wish / The Holiday Album (2003)

Whitney Houston

Recommended by:

Ashley Bostian

Marketing Manager

Whitney Houston’s Holiday album is a yuletide powerhouse! “One Wish” is packed with reimagined, soulful classics with a whole lot of vocal talent. A few of my favorites are “Joy to the World” featuring the Georgia Mass Choir (because what’s better than soul AND choral music?) and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Listen on Spotify→

Songs for Christmas (2006)

Sufjan Stevens

Recommended by:

Brian Valentyn

Manager of Campus & Community Initiatives

This epic, five-EP set includes recordings from 2001-2006, as Stevens evolved from banjo-toting indie-folk hero into more electronic and experimental territory. There’s something about the way he blends earnestness and irony here — setting hushed vocal melodies and fingerpicked guitars against playfully grandiose arrangements — that perfectly captures the spirit of the season. Standouts include Stevens’ several takes on “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” as well as the overlooked original “Sister Winter,” which should be a classic by now.

Listen on Spotify→

Christmas Eve (2013 Remastered Version)

Yamashita Tatsuro

Recommended by:

Marika Niko

Duke Arts Admin Fellow

A classic winter song from Japan! This song was used in a series of commercials that aired between 1988 and 2000 by Japan Railway, which almost becomes like a visual album of this song. The commercials illustrate a long-distance couple waiting/traveling to see each other on Christmas Eve (via the railway, of course!). The images pair so well with the sentimental yet hopeful tone of the song.

Listen on Apple Music→

Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas (1960)

Ella Fitzgerald

Recommended by:

Cheryl Edson

Artist Services Coordinator

A classic for a reason- we put this on to decorate the tree every year, and it doesn’t truly feel like the holidays until Ella swings through the Christmas standards. Favorite tracks include “What Are you Doing New Year’s Eve” and “Let it Snow”

Listen on Spotify→

A Jolly Christmas (1957)

Frank Sinatra

Recommended by:

Lily Annenberg

CAST: Social Media Coordinator

This album is iconic and timeless. I grew up in Aspen, Colorado, and throughout the month of December, my Mom used to blast this album throughout our house. I remember watching the snowflakes fall onto our glass windows with this music playing in the background. The album captures the emotions of joy and togetherness associated with the holiday season. Favorite tracks include “White Christmas,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and “Silent Night.”

Listen on Spotify→


Spotify Playlist