Holiday Harmonies: GW Today’s Winter Playlist 2022

Settle into the holiday spirit with this mix of classics and sleeper hits, chosen by students, faculty and staff.

December 12, 2022

Record player in front of fireplace surrounded by wrapped gifts

(The Retro Store/Unsplash)

Nothing sets the holiday mood like the right music, especially as chilly winter weather is finally starting to arrive in D.C. GW Today asked members of the George Washington University community to tell us about some of their favorite wintertime and holiday tracks.

“White Winter Hymnal,” Fleet Foxes
Elizabeth Benjamin, senior, Elliott School of International Affairs
Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility Chair, GW TRAiLS

EB: It's a song I've listened to since I was a kid, and it always seemed to coincide with the first fall of snow and encapsulate that certain quietness you get only in the winter. While it may not necessarily be a holiday song, I still associate it with this time of the year, where things start to get a little bit more peaceful.

“Christmas Rappin’,” Kurtis Blow
Christopher Alan Bracey, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs

CB: When I was a little, little kid, I was all about “Little Drummer Boy.” It was a somber tune about the importance of perseverance. But it was all about service and what "shall" be played.

Kurtis Blow blew that motif out of the water. I love “Christmas Rappin’” because it demystifies and re-imagines Santa crashing a party. And Santa turns out to be a pretty cool dude. At 9 years old, I realized two things—first, that hip-hop as an art form arrived in the mainstream, and second, it reimagined the Christmas holiday not as a generic party but as this funky affair. Too bad that it was not more ecumenical. We always want more people at the party. Still, the song makes me smile when I hear it—especially when I play it on vinyl!

“The Christmas Song,” Nat King Cole
“I Love the Lord” and “Joy to the World,” Whitney Houston and the Georgia Mass Choir
“What Christmas Means to Me,” Stevie Wonder

Imani M. Cheers, associate professor of digital storytelling, School of Media and Public Affairs

IC: Nat King Cole is a legend and this song and the entire album is always on repeat in the Cheers household! “The Preacher’s Wife” is my mother’s favorite holiday movie and soundtrack. Whitney takes us all back to her gospel roots and delivers an epic performance! Pure joy and holiday happiness. And Stevie’s soulful and sensual sound brings classic holiday cheer.

Asalto Navideño,” Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe
Loren Kajikawa, music program chair, Corcoran School of the Arts and Design

LK: Recorded in 1970 at the height of the salsa revolution in New York City, this album features the great Yomo Toro on cuatro, the four-stringed guitar quintessential to Puerto Rican “jíbaro” music. The album’s title is a play on the parranda, the Puerto Rican custom of caroling and community celebration. If you want to get your holiday party dancing, this is definitely the album for you.

“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” composed by Manning Sherwin with lyrics by Eric Maschwitz
Michael O'Keefe, senior, School of Engineering and Applied Science
Business director, GW Troubadors

MO: Our favorite song to sing around the holidays is “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” Although it’s a jazz arrangement and not explicitly a holiday song, it elicits a cozy, warm feeling we all love.

“Mambo Santa Mambo,” The Enchanters
Lauren Onkey, director, Corcoran School of the Arts and Design

LO: Vocal groups in the early days of rock and roll created what became known as “doo-wop” music, and doo-wop groups made some of the best rock-and-roll holiday music. The Drifters' “White Christmas,” The Orioles' “What Are You Doing New Years Eve?” and the Youngsters' “Christmas In Jail” are three great examples—they capture the skill and artistry of the young singers, as well as their youth and energy. But my favorite is The Enchanters' "Mambo Santa Mambo,” a hit in 1957. The Detroit group mixes R&B and Latin music perfectly here in a way that can’t help but make you dance.

“El Bochi,” Sexteto Fantasma 
“Porteñísimo,” Orquesta TÍpica Sans Souci 

Weizhen Li, Ph.D. student, School of Engineering and Applied Science
Financial officer, GW Argentine Tango

WL: Among our favorite Argentine tango songs, I believe the following are the ones we want to share with the whole GW community. They both carry some holiday feeling and also are full of joy and energy. Hope you like them!

“Last Christmas,” Wham!
Katie Reifert, head coach, volleyball

KR: Just a classic.

“Hallelujah,” Pentatonix
George Rodriguez, head coach, women’s tennis

GR: It was a song that our son would always start smiling and dancing to when it came on. It is a great feel-good song for the holidays.

“All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Mariah Carey
James Tate, chief of GW Police

JT: My family and I have listened to this song since it was released in 1994. It's festive, brings out the Christmas spirit and NEVER gets old!

“This Christmas,” Donny Hathaway
“O Come All Ye Faithful,” Luther Vandross

Maranda Ward, Ed.D. ’17
Assistant professor of clinical research and leadership, Milken Institute School of Public Health

MW: “This Christmas” is nostalgic for me. I immediately smell cookies baking and remember us untangling long strings of Christmas lights. My mother was a huge Luther fan, so I became one too. His whole Christmas album is fabulous but I especially loved hearing my mom sing this one.

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Darlene Love
Michael J. Whalen, associate professor of urology and director of urologic oncology, School of Medicine and Health Sciences

MW: I love this song because it reminds me that all the silver and gold of Christmas decorations don’t replace the joy of time spent with family and friends.

“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” Bruce Springsteen
“8 Days of Hanukkah,” Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
“Christmas in Hollis,” Run-D.M.C.
“Winter Wonderland,” Eurythmics
“Winter Funkyland,” Bootsy Collins
“O Tannenbaum,” Vince Guaraldi
“Hallelujah” Chorus from “Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration,” dir. Quincy Jones
“My Only Wish (This Year),” Britney Spears
“Last Christmas,” Carly Rae Jepsen
“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” Preservation Hall Jazz Band

GW Today editorial team

GWT: Happy holidays from our headphones to yours!