A few days ago, singer Darius Rucker sang the holiday chestnut “White Christmas” at the annual Christmas Tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. While many vocalists have offered their renditions of this traditional song, many people took to social media platforms to make comments positive, negatives, and befuddled about the performance of this singer with this song, on a highly visible stage.
People found it an odd or even jarring paring: an African-American man, known in recent years for being a country music performer, singing a song with “White” in its title…just days after a Staten Island grand jury chose not to indict a white police officer in the death of a black man.
Apparently a number of people found this to be a cringe-worthy moment, broadcast widely. But let’s look at various elements and see why this may not be the major embarrassment of the holiday season, but, rather, an all-American mishmash. Here are a few reasons
1. “White Christmas” was written by Irving Berlin, born Israel Beilin. The revered song was written by a prolific Jewish song-writer.
2. Many singers and musicians have covered this song. Among them have been African-American vocalists such as Dionne Warwick, Cee Lo Green, Otis Redding, The Supremes, Darlene Love, Ella Fitzgerald and the Drifters.
3. Darius Rucker recorded the song for his 2014 album Home for the Holidays, so he was promoting his newest release.
4. There have been very few African-American singers and musicians who made it big in the country music genre. Rucker is a rare success, aside from Charley Pride, Skyelor Anderson and some cross-overs such as Aaron Neville, Ray Charles, and a few others. Give Rucker credit for confounding country music stereotypes.
5. When he was the lead in the 1980s-90s group Hootie and the Blowfish, he was also the rarity; an African-American front man for a middle-of-the-road rock and roll group.
I was present at another musical event in which Darius Rucker was the racial rarity of a multi-act lineup. In late November 1998 he sang as part of a tribute concert to Sandy Denny, which took place at the St. Ann Center in downtown Brooklyn, New York. (Sandy Denny was a British folk-rock singer best known to Americans as the guest singer on the Led Zeppelin song “The Battle of Evermore”.) At that show Rucker sang the song “BlackWaterSide,” a traditional song that Denny included on one of her solo albums. I thought he rendered the song very well, and his reviews were positive, if mixed (an MTV reviewer liked it, some audience members chuckled about “Hootie sings folk?”)
Rucker’s musical career has long been a curiosity but he has achieved a lot. You could say that his latest performance came at an indelicate time, on the heels of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner tragedies, among others. Or you could say that his latest performance came in spite of difficulties with which our nation must grapple.
Here is Rucker’s rendition of White Christmas at Rockefeller Center: