Behind the Christmas Song: Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child
The song is a traditional spiritual of African American origin. The origin of the song is unknown.
One source claims sister Margaret Allison of the Angelic Gospel Singers, a 1950s performing group, wrote the song. However, this has not been proven. She did write the song “Glory to the Newborn King,” which many believe may have morphed into Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child over the years. However, no one knows for sure. Publishers list the song as a traditional African American spiritual.
Margaret Allison was born in 1921 in Plum Branch, McCormick County, South Carolina. At the age of four, she moved to Philadelphia with her parents. She learned the piano at a young age. In 1941, she began a group the Spiritual Echoes. After a dream in 1944, and encouragement from her husband, she formed the Angelic Gospel Singers. This included her Spiritual Echoes group as well as her sister. They had a few hits including Touch Me Lord Jesus, There Must Be a Heaven Somewhere, Back to the Dust and Glory, Glory to the Newborn King. Their 1987 hit I’ve Got Victory revived their previous success. Allison continued to sing, even while her health began to fail. She past away in 2008, the last surviving member of the Original Angelic Gospel Singers.
Mariah Carey’s 1994 version of Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child on her Merry Christmas album is the best known version. The release of this version made the song popular.
Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight and the Three Mo’ Tenors also performed this song.