Sometime in the next few days, radio stations will start playing Christmas music. A friend of mine suggested I write a column about recording artists associated with a Christmas song. So here I go.
No one is more identified with a Christmas song than Bing Crosby for “White Christmas.”
It was first performed on his radio show, The Kraft Music Hall, on Christmas Day 1941. The version we hear most often today was recorded in 1947 with Crosby, the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers. The song won an Academy Award in 1942 for the movie, “Holiday Inn.”
It is the best-selling single of all time with sales in excess of 50 million copies.
Crosby, who died in 1977, never thought his version of the song was that great. He said, “a jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully.”
By the way, Elvis Presley’s 1957 recording of his song enraged Irving Berlin, who wrote “White Christmas,” calling it “a profane parody of a cherished yuletide standard.”
Berlin had his staff call radio stations and ask them not to play it. They were unsuccessful.
Crosby was also known for his duet with David Bowie, which was one of the last recordings Crosby would make. “The Little Drummer Boy” with Bowie singing “Peace on Earth” was not released until after Crosby’s death.
Other singers synonymous with songs include:
Andy Williams, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” This turned out to be one of his biggest songs. I had the pleasure of hearing him sing it in person a couple of times and it was great. Williams was also known for “The Holiday Season,” another perennial favorite.
Nat “King” Cole is forever associated with “The Christmas Song.” His trademark crooning of “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” is a fixture.
Gene Autry’s recording of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was an accidental hit. It was supposed to be the flip side to Autry’s “Here Comes Santa Claus,” but became the larger hit for the singing cowboy.
Georgia native Brenda Lee is best known for her recording of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Little Miss Dynamite is heard singing it every season.
Another native Georgian, John Berry, had chart success with his recording of “O Holy Night.” By the way, he’ll be in concert in Gainesville on Dec. 18. Tickets are available through Challenged Child and Friends.
Burl Ives is remembered for his rendition of “Holly Jolly Christmas.” Sadly, “jolly” is not one of the words used to describe the demeanor of Mr. Ives.
Leroy Anderson and his orchestra are known for “Sleigh Ride,” which Anderson wrote.
My late friend, Ron Evans, told me that Anderson pronounced his name “Luh-Roy,” not the more Southern “Lee-Roy.” I still call him the latter.
Johnny Mathis had a vocal version of “Sleigh Ride,” as did The Ronettes, who had a big production version by current California inmate Phil Spector.
A few years ago, pop stations started playing Christmas music earlier and it resulted in a ratings boost. It has become the only time you hear some of the artists who truly shaped modern music and actually know what a song really is and how to sing it.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.