Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas Music Gets a New Beat in the 1920s-30s

In the late 1800’s, the cylinder recorder came into being allowing the public to purchase music to be played at home instead of going to live performances.   Then in the late 19-teens, along came the 78 rpm record and gramophones to play them on and recorded music took another step forward.  The birth of the disk-type of recording media was also an instigator for growth in the field of musical styles and artists.  Starting in the 1920s we started to hear from the Big Bands, the Blues artists, along with Country music singers and other popular singers.  We also started to get recorded music for Christmas that included these types of styles so that the scope of Christmas music became larger.   Before this time, in the cylinder era, most Christmas music was religious carols or short skits. Now a larger variety of music is being sold for the holidays.  This made the 1920’s a very exciting time for recorded music.  You can hear many of these Christmas songs on my website at

The Big Bands became the most popular type of music in the 1920s and 1930s.  Benny Goodman,  Tommy Dorsey,  Fats Waller,  Duke Ellington, and Count Basie were some of those big names.  Also the vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Dick Powell, and Rudy Vallee were singing with these bands.  And the collection Big Bands and Songsters at Christmas also has Mae Questal, the voice of Betty Boop, singing “I Want You For Christmas”.  Russ Morgan sings the same song on this CD, but the styles are so different that they are almost different songs. I think the contrast between them both is very interesting and thus, I have decided to break one of my rules of not putting different versions of the same song on one CD.  Also I have included the very funny song “Does Santa Claus Sleep With His Whiskers Over or Under the Sheet”. This is done by Henry Hall of the BBC Orchestra in Great Britain. 

The Blues style of singing was just getting started in the 1920s and many Christmas songs were recorded around a blues theme.  Louis Armstrong, although known for early jazz music, also played cornet behind many of the popular Blues singers of the time.  On the Bring Me a Blues Christmas CD are two versions of Santa Claus Blues, one that is vocal and one that is instrumental.  I found several versions of Santa Claus Blues as instrumental and was very determined to get the vocal version.  So I was very happy to find it by Louis Armstrong, Eva Taylor and Clarence Williams.  Other well-known blues singers on this CD are Blind Lemon Jefferson, Elzadie Robinson, Bertha Chippie Hill, Roosevelt Sykes, and Bumblebee Slim.  One of my favorite tracks is Sonny Boy Willliamson’s “Sonny Boy's Christmas Blues”. In this song, poor Sonny Boy gets in trouble just because he can’t wait til Christmas to find out what his girlfriend is giving him for his present.  And then there is “Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus” by Butterbean and Susie, an early song along the same theme as the 1950s popular song “Santa Baby” – give me, give me, give me for Christmas. 

Now we also have a big surge in Christmas music for children in the 1920s and 30s.  Some of my favorite songs are on this CD.  I even named the CD from the track by Vernon Dalhart, ”Hooray for St. Nick”.  Vernon Dalhart was mostly a country singer and he also liked to sing songs for children.  He also sings “Santa Claus, That’s Me” here.  Dick Robertson’s “Don’t Wait Til the Night Before Christmas (To Be Good)”  sounds much more contemporary and I am always surprised that it was actually recorded before the 1950’s.  Some of the big performers from the cylinder era are now recording on 78 rpm, such as Ernest Hare and Gilbert Gerard.  You can hear Santa Claus prove that there is a Santa Claus, which is done by Ernest Hare.  And Vaughn De Leath was recording under her own name and also as Gloria Gere.  She makes a very believable little girl on “Jim and Mary’s Christmas”. And I have always loved little Shirley Temple.  Who could not love her as she sang and danced on the screen starting at age 3.  She sings “That’s What I Want For Christmas” and makes you believe that the very best thing for Christmas would be no more tummy aches.   I put Kay Kyser on this CD even though he was a very popular Big Band leader too.  But the song “Hello, Mister Kringle” seems to fit well with the childhood feel of this CD.  So I had to make a choice and here is where it landed. 

The birth of Christ is of course the “reason for the season” and was very strongly represented in the 1920s and 1930s.  But even here you can see the type of diverse styles starting to emerge at this time.  On “A Christmas Nativity” CD I have included as many styles as I could.  I really love the deep sonorous voice of Paul Robeson on “Mary Had a Baby, Yes, Lord”, which a good example of a spiritual.  And a very lively Frankie ”Half-Pint” Jaxon  sings “Christ Was Born on Christmas Morn”.  Can’t really say it is an example of anything other than Frankie’s style.  I also included a couple of French language songs from Canadian singers that are lovely whether you understand French or not.  Petit Septuor de la Bonne sings “Whence Oh Shepherd Maiden” and Louis Chartier performs “Oh, Cradle”.  And I have to admit that I have to sing along to the Golden Gate Quartet when they sing “Go Where I Send Thee”.

So I hope I have created some curiosity in your mind about the music of the 1920s and 1930s.  I think it is a great time for Christmas music and if you like it as much as I do, you can even take advantage of buying the entire 1920s-30sChristmas set at a discount here. So come on over to and check it all out.  Merry Christmas Everyone!