MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, [a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook], I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
Christmastime is here again, and so it’s that time of year to feature some classic holiday tunes from the American Songbook. On this program though, instead of featuring the same studio recordings we’re used to hearing each and every holiday season, I’m going to turn my attention to some vintage radio broadcasts. We’ll hear holiday tunes, performed live on the radio in the 1940s and 50s, from folks like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and more.
It’s Christmas On The Air, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - MARGARET WHITING AND BOB HOPE, “SILVER BELLS”
MUSIC - MARGARET WHITING, “IT’S CHRISTMAS TIME AGAIN”
Margaret Whiting live on a Christmas broadcast of the Bob Hope Show on December 23, 1954. Just now, we heard the Jack Elliot and Sonny Burke song “It’s Christmas Time Again,” and before that, alongside Bob Hope himself, the Jay Livingston and Ray Evans song “Silver Bells.” That comes from an album called Swingin’ Songs For Santa.
MUSIC CLIP - GLENN MILLER AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “CHRISTMAS MEDLEY”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re getting into the holiday spirit by playing some Christmas and holiday tunes, as performed live on classic radio broadcasts from the 1940s and 50s.
For years, radio was the primary place you would go to hear your jazz and pop singers perform. Starting in the 1930s, radio stations were reluctant to broadcast recordings. Not only did recordings not sound as good over the air as a live performance, but musicians’ unions actively tried to prevent stations from broadcasting records that people could otherwise buy at the store—at least, without the musicians earning some fair royalties.
The history of musicians, record companies, and radio stations arguing over who gets paid is long and complicated, but it does mean that singers like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby were frequently performing live on the radio, and many of these broadcasts were recorded and archived for posterity.
This hour, we’ll focus in particular on Christmas broadcasts.
The Christmas radio show is as old as radio itself. In fact, one of the very first known AM radio broadcasts was apparently a Christmas Eve broadcast from Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1906, which featured radio innovator Reginard Fessenden playing “O Holy Night” on his violin, broadcasting it out to ships at sea.
Christmas radio broadcasts were a comfort to soldiers in the trenches fighting in the first World War. These soldiers were, at the time, among the only people actually able to use this new wireless technology. But during the second World War, Christmas radio broadcasts became a comfort to people both at home and fighting abroad.
On December 25, 1941, less than three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entrance into World War II, Bing Crosby, on his radio show, introduced a new Christmas song to the world called “White Christmas.” It was penned by Irving Berlin for the upcoming 1942 film Holiday Inn, but its reference to more peaceful Christmases in years past resonated with a country now entering war. By 1942, Crosby’s recording of “White Christmas” became a top-seller, eventually becoming the best-selling song of all-time by the end of the war.
Unfortunately, that original 1941 broadcast is mostly lost to history, save for a few incredibly low-quality bootlegs. But fortunately, “White Christmas” became a staple on Crosby’s radio show for many years to come.
Here’s a recording from a few years later, December 1943, featuring the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the vocal groups The Charioteers and the Music Maids. This is Bing Crosby on his Kraft Music Hall Radio Show with Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BING CROSBY, “WHITE CHRISTMAS (1943)”
MUSIC - BING CROSBY, “SILENT NIGHT (1945)”
Bing Crosby on the radio in 1945 performing the song he used to close just about every Christmas radio broadcast, “Silent Night.” That comes from the Christmas 1945 broadcast of Bob Hope’s Command Performance, a radio program for the troops. Before that, we heard Crosby on his Kraft Music Hall radio program in 1943 performing the Christmas song he made famous, “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin.
Many Christmas songs that we know today were introduced during World War II. Along with “White Christmas” is the beloved song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” first introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM film Meet Me In St. Louis. Like “White Christmas,” it’s a song of nostalgia for Christmases in the past—Meet Me In St. Louis was set at the time of the 1904 World’s Fair. But, it also has a hopeful message for more peaceful Christmases to come.
Here’s a recording she made for the radio a few years after the premiere. It comes from the CBS Lux Radio Theater broadcast of Meet Me In St. Louis, a radio version of the film, which aired in December 1946.
This is Judy Garland with “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JUDY GARLAND, “HAVE YOURSELF…”
MUSIC - PERRY COMO, “WINTER WONDERLAND”
Perry Como and the Satisfiers live on the radio in 1947 performing “Winter Wonderland.” Before that, Judy Garland in 1946 with “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” from the CBS Lux Radio Theater broadcast of Meet Me In St. Louis.
That last performance with Perry Como comes from a radio program called Jubilee, a program started in 1942 by the Armed Forces Radio Services which featured mostly African American performers aimed primarily at African American service members. Their Christmas programs always brought in big guests, like Count Basie or Duke Ellington.
Let’s hear a few more Christmas Jubilee broadcasts. This one comes from the 1945 broadcast, which then was hosted by emcee Ernie "Bubbles" Whitman. This is a song we’ve already heard this hour, but I’ll play it again because it’s performed beautifully here by the one and only Lena Horne. Here is Lena Horne with “Silent Night,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - LENA HORNE, “SILENT NIGHT”
MUSIC - THE KING COLE TRIO, “THE CHRISTMAS SONG”
Nat King Cole and the King Cole Trio from the Armed Forces Radio Services’ 1947 Jubilee Christmas broadcast, with a song the trio made famous the previous year, “The Christmas Song,” written by Mel Tormé and Robert Wells. Before that, we heard Lena Horne with Count Basie and His Orchestra from the 1945 Christmas Jubilee with “Silent Night.”
MUSIC CLIP - TOMMY DORSEY AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN”
We’ll have more Christmas radio broadcasts, as well as some other holiday delights, in just a bit. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - BENNY GOODMAN AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “SANTA CLAUS CAME IN THE SPRING”
MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, “WHITE CHRISTMAS (LIVE)”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been featuring holiday music as performed live on the air this hour. And for the second half of this program, I’m going to stretch the definition a little bit. Coming up, we’ll hear some music from some live radio broadcasts, some live television broadcasts, and something that was, in essence, intended to be performed in front of a live audience.
First up, we’ll hear a recording from 1949 that was recorded for the radio, but not necessarily live on the radio. It’s what’s called a “radio transcription,” a non-commercial recording made specifically for broadcast, but not intended to be sold in stores. This is a little-remembered holiday song by Floyd Huddleston and Al Rinker.
Here is Kay Starr and the Billy Butterfield quartet with “December,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “DECEMBER”
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “CHRISTMAS V-DISC MEDLEY”
A few non-commercial recordings, intended either for radio play or exclusively for soldiers. Just now, we heard Frank Sinatra with Axel Stordahl and His Orchestra with a medley of Christmas carols: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Joy To The World.” Those were recorded in 1945 for The Frank Sinatra Show radio program, and later repackaged as a V-Disc, a recording made for soldiers in World War II, likely recorded in 1945. Before that, we heard a radio transcription from Kay Starr in 1949, performing the little-known song “December.”
After World War II, radio was still king, and Christmas radio broadcasts continued to be recorded by many of the major stars. Bing Crosby, who introduced “White Christmas” on his Kraft Music Hall radio show in 1941, continued to perform on the radio through the early 1960s. In 1952, he began work on The Bing Crosby Show for General Electric, which featured many guest stars. Although by this point, Crosby was not performing live on the radio, but rather, pre-recording his broadcasts.
Here he is on the Christmas show from December 18, 1952 show (recorded in November) with special guest Ella Fitzgerald. This is Bing and Ella with “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BING CROSBY AND ELLA FITZGERALD, “RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER”
MUSIC - JOHNNY MERCER, “FROSTY THE SNOWMAN”
MUSIC - JOHNNY MERCER AND ROSEMARY CLOONEY, “HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS”
Johnny Mercer and Rosemary Clooney with “Here Comes Santa Claus.” That comes from the 1962 edition of the radio program A Christmas Sing with Bing, hosted by Bing Crosby. Before that, we heard Johnny Mercer alone with “Frosty The Snowman.” That comes from that same 1962 A Christmas Sing With Bing radio broadcast. And starting that set, Bing himself with Ella Fitzgerald performing “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” That comes from the 1952 Christmas broadcast of the Bing Crosby Show for General Electric.
A Christmas Sing With Bing began in 1956, and was an annual Christmas Eve broadcast, sponsored by the Insurance Company of North America. However, the 1962 program we just heard from was the final edition. By this point, the holiday television special was taking precedent, and Bing Crosby, the Christmas King, was still at the center of it.
Let’s hear from a few of Crosby’s television Christmas specials now. First, we’ll hear an excerpt of a TV special he made with Frank Sinatra in 1957. This is Bing and Frank with “Jingle Bells,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BING CROSBY AND FRANK SINATRA, “JINGLE BELLS”
MUSIC - BING CROSBY AND DAVID BOWIE, “PEACE ON EARTH/LITTLE DRUMMER BOY”
One of Bing Crosby’s final recordings, a month before he passed away in 1977. That was him with singer-songwriter David Bowie on the television special Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, featuring Crosby singing “The Little Drummer Boy” and Bowie singing a counterpoint called “Peace On Earth,” quickly written by the show’s producers hours before recording. Before that, Bing and Frank Sinatra, twenty years earlier, duetting on “Jingle Bells” from the special Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank, an episode of The Frank Sinatra Show.
To close off this hour of live Christmas broadcasts, I’m going to feature one more live recording. This one is a curious one—and it’s breaking the rules a bit. However, it’s too good not to share. While it was recorded live, it was not broadcast live on the radio, nor was it even recorded live in front of an audience. Rather, it was recorded in the privacy of the performer’s home on a reel-to-reel recorder. However, as you’ll hear, it was a message clearly intended to be broadcast to children all over the world.
Here I’m talking about Louis Armstrong’s now famous reading of the 1823 poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, better known as “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.” Armstrong recorded it in 1971, just a few months before he died at age 69, and it was released commercially shortly after his death. The recording was a holiday rarity for many years, but it’s gained more recognition lately. In fact, just this year, a new version of it was released on an album called Louis Wishes You A Cool Yule,] featuring Armstrong’s recitation over piano accompaniment by Sullivan Fortner. That’s what I’ll play for you now.
This is Louis Armstrong in 1971, with pianist Sullivan Forner in 2022, performing “A Visit From Saint Nicholas,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND SULLIVAN FORTNER, “A VISIT FROM SAINT NICHOLAS”
Louis Armstrong, in one of his final recordings from 1971, reciting the poem “Twas The Night Before Christmas,” featuring new accompaniment there from pianist Sullivan Fortner.
Let me join Louis (and Santa) by wishing a Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. And thanks for tuning in to this holiday edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - BENNY GOODMAN AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “JINGLE BELLS”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow