From 1986 until 2014, David Letterman would close out his final show of the year with a Christmas episode that featured the one and only Darlene Love. Over the span of those 28 years, Love would perform her holiday hit “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” one of Letterman’s favorites.
The appearance found its origins after Letterman saw Love perform the song at the Bottom Line, in a show called Leader of the Pack. He immediately had to have her on the show. Love told Variety in 2014:
He had David [were] down to see the show. [Letterman] said, “You know that song that girl sings? That Christmas song? That’s the greatest Christmas song I’ve ever heard. We need to get her on the show.” That was 1986, and so I’ve been doing it ever since.
The tradition spanned two networks over nearly three decades, appearing from 1986 until 1993 on Late Night with David Letterman, and later on the Late Show with David Letterman when Letterman joined CBS.
The song was originally recorded for the 1963 Phil Spector album A Christmas Gift for You, and while Love performed the song on Letterman’s shows, she told the New York Times in 2014 that she will not sing it for any other TV talk-show hosts moving forward.
For her final performance, the Late Show paid tribute to Darlene Love. Following her brief interview with Dave, the stage filled in with additional musician, including string and horn sections and several backup singers. These singers would not overshadow Love’s powerful voice, and sang her final last verse from the top of Paul Shaffer’s piano, with fake snow falling around her.
Recently, an animated version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” has been released through Legacy Recordings. The short video follows a young Black girl as she walks home through a snowy neighborhood, accompanied by a happy snowman. Along the way, she stops to admire a Christmas tree and runs into her dog, who is singing along with a pair of carolers. The girl and her dog arrive home, where they are lovingly greeted by her parents. As the video nears its end, the girl opens up one of her presents to find a snow globe with the smiling snowman inside.
At the end of the music video, Love posted a message paying tribute to her late sister, Edna Wright Perry, who sang backing vocals on the track.
Featured on the show prior to Love’s show-stopping performance, Letterman annually welcomed comedian Jay Thomas, to share, as Letterman put it, “the best story I’ve ever heard.” Thomas would then launch into his true story about an encounter with Clayton Moore, the actor famous for playing The Lone Ranger. For 17 years starting in 1992, Thomas would come on the show and deliver the joke, much to Letterman and the audience’s approval. Watch the story unfold over the years.
After Thomas delivered the punchline, he and Letterman would alternate throwing a football at the meatball on top of the Late Show Christmas tree. To wrap up the show, Darlene Love would come out for “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and send the show into the night.