Charles Brown was a Texas-born blues musician who relocated to Los Angeles and joined the R&B vocal group Johnny Moore's Three Blazers. Despite being the trio's standout performer, Brown didn't get his due credit on the records, including the mellow Christmas classic "Merry Christmas Baby," which went to #3 on the R&B chart in 1947. Although the song is credited to Johnny Moore and blues songwriter Lou Baxter, Brown insisted he was really the song's co-writer, not Moore.
Brown, who also sang and played piano and celeste on the track, said Baxter asked him to record one of his songs because he needed money for a throat operation. "If we did one of his numbers they would give him a $500 advance," Brown explained in a 1990 interview. "So I took the satchel of songs home that night and I looked in there, I looked at all them things, and it didn't impress me. I saw 'Merry Christmas Blues,' but the idea struck me. I said this would be a good idea, but it wasn't like what he had written. I wrote the title 'Merry Christmas Baby,' and I wrote the words, how I was going to sing it, and I mapped it out, played the piano, and I presented it to Johnny Moore. We didn't know it was going to be a great big hit, but I thought it was unique. Leon Rene [head of Exclusive Records] said put the celeste on it. I had never played one. He said it's just like the piano, put it on the side of the piano. 'Cause they didn't have all these synthesizers. He said just play it (on the intro) like you play the piano then get back to the piano."
Moore wouldn't allow the group to sign an exclusive recording contract, which led them to record for a variety of labels. "Merry Christmas Baby" was released through Exclusive Records, founded by composer Leon Rene. He was looking for a holiday tune to rival Bing Crosby's perennial favorite "White Christmas
." While the single was successful, it wasn't enough to sustain the label, which folded by 1950. According to Brown, Exclusive wouldn't pay the copyrights and the artists never got paid.
Brown left the Blazers in 1948 and formed his own trio with bassist Eddie Williams and guitarist Charles Norris. The Charles Brown Trio notched several hits, including "Get Yourself Another Fool" and "Trouble Blues." In 1960, Brown issued another holiday favorite: "Please Come Home For Christmas
Brown re-recorded this a handful of times throughout his career. Some versions, including a 1956 recording for Aladdin Records (released by Imperial Records in 1961), feature an interpolation of "Jingle Bells
" prior to the final verse.
Several artists have recorded this for Christmas compilations throughout the years, including Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, Etta James, B.B. King, Bruce Springsteen, Christina Aguilera, Billy Idol, Sheryl Crow, The Monkees, and John Legend. Brown also recorded a duet version with Bonnie Raitt for the 1992 multi-artist compilation A Very Special Christmas 2, to benefit the Special Olympics.
This was used in several movies, including Jingle All The Way (1996), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cast Away (2000), starring Tom Hanks, Friday After Next (2002), starring Ice Cube, and This Christmas (2007), starring Idris Elba.