O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles) by Nat King Cole.
O Come All Ye Fathful is one of the most exuberant of announcement carols and is a perennial favorite for both choir performance and congregational singing at Christmas Eve services. It is based on two Old Testament verses said to foretell the coming of the Messiah—Psalm 98, 96:11-12 and Genesis 3:17-18 but like other popular carols it is sung as if it is an announcement of the birth of Christ by angels on high.
Mystery surrounds the creation of Adeste Fideles in Latin for use in the Catholic mass. Proposed authors include St. Bonaventure—highly unlikely—the English Catholic and Jacobite John Francis Wade, anonymous Cistercian monks, and even a reining European monarch, King John IV (João IV) of Portugal.
Wade signed the oldest printed version of the Latin text printed while he was in exile in France in 1751. It was included in a volume of reproductions of his manuscript copies, Cantus Diversi pro Dominicis et Festis per annum (Dominican songs and festivals of the year.) The text was also said to have hidden messages recognizable to the covert supporters of the Stewart pretender after the Jacobite rebellion was crushed. Those coded messages are obscure and doubtful, however, and it is most likely that Wades signature attests to his skilled calligraphy and is not a claim to authorship.
The version published by Wade consisted of four Latin verses. But later in the 18th century, the French Catholic priest Jean-François-Étienne Borderies wrote an additional three verses in Latin now normally printed sung as the third to fifth of seven verses.
The connection to King John—or the members of the Portuguese Province of the Cistercians—is stronger. It is bolstered by a claim by the Duke of Leeds that he first heard it sung at the Portuguese embassy in London in 1795. The carol was soon popularly known as The Portuguese Song. King John had musical interests and was the acknowledged writer/composer of Church music including the Lentin hymn Crux Fidelis. The King’s massive library said to contain the original manuscripts to Adeste Fideles was destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake and fire of 1775 but other copies were preserved and found at his former Ducal Vila Viçosa palace and have been dated to 1741, well before Wade’s publication.
The first English words are by Isaac Watts a dissenting clergyman and prolific hymnist published in 1719 in Watts’ collection The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship with a notation that the music was taken from “Tunes of the Old Psalmbook.” Also indicating that the Latin version known well before Wade. By the late 18th Century the lyrics had been printed with music several times.
If Adeste Fideles in Latin was firmly Catholic, a polar opposite English Dissenter Issac Watts, made the first English version.
Despite its Catholic and Papish origin and official scorn for its disreputable dissenter source in English, the carol was so popular that it was soon included in orthodox Anglican services.
The version most commonly sung today is from Lowell Mason’s 1848 The National Psalmist published in Boston with a tune he named Antioch and attributed as “arranged from Handel.” It was not in fact arranged by Handel, but Mason borrowed the first four notes from the chorus Lift Up Your Heads from The Messiah. Modern scholars have identified other possible sources including Charles Wesley’s O Joyful Sound published in 1833.
Due to its popularity as a choral piece O Come All Ye Faithful is the most published Christmas hymn in North America. In addition to innumerable choir performances it has also notably been recorded by Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como, Andy Williams, The Supremes, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Pat Boone, Vic Damone, Mariah Carey, Whitney Huston with a gospel choir in the movie The Preacher’s Wife, and by the a capella group Pentatonix.
Nat King Cole and eight year old daughter Natalie in a publicity shot for Cole's 1960 The Magic of Christmas album.
Probably the most beloved version is by Nat King Cole on his 1960 album The Magic of Christmas.