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Monday, December 10, 2018

Christmas Music by Jewish Composers - #MusicMovesMe

Welcome! It's Monday and time for another episode of Music Moves Me.

Who are the #MusicMovesMe bloggers? We are bloggers (and perhaps also musical elves) who blog about music each Monday and if you have music to share with us, you are most welcome to join! (Music Posts Only on this music train, please!)   First, there is XmasDolly,   Her co-conductors are:  Callie of JAmerican Spice,  and ♥Stacy of Stacy Uncorked♥   Also, co-conducting  is  Cathy from Curious as a Cathy .  And finally, there's me. 


What follows has become one of my favorite seasonal blog posts, which I update a little each year.

Why do Christians in the United States dream of a White Christmas?  Why is it so important that snow is on the ground?

Why does White Christmas have its own official website?

It could be because White Christmas (the song, as sung by Bing Crosby) is the best selling single of all time.

It may surprise you that White Christmas was written by a Jewish song writer.

It may also surprise you that Jews are responsible for many other beloved Christmas songs.


My quest to find out more started in 2010, reading a NY Times Op Ed.  There are a number of these songs, and other bloggers and writers have done the research for me:  I thank them, including the  this article. (a must read, based on extensive research).

Some may argue that these are NOT Christmas songs, but rather songs about what I would now call the "secular Christmas". True, these are not hymns.  But it is true that the American celebration of Christmas incorporates many aspects of non-religious symbolism - this ground has been covered by other writers.

I consider them Christmas songs.  I think, in particular, few would argue that "I'll be Home for Christmas" isn't one of the most heartfelt Christmas songs every written.

(Note, I have not done any of this research myself.  I am not a musician or a music expert, just someone who likes to listen to well written music.  So if I end up spreading wrong information, I apologize.  I did try more than one source, but - as you well know- you can't trust everything you read on the Internet.)

1.  White ChristmasIrving Berlin lived to 101, married a Catholic woman back when that type of intermarriage was extremely scandalous (to both families) and defined Christmas for entire generations of American Christians.  (Incidentally, he also wrote "Easter Parade" and "God Bless America".)

The next time you wonder if you will be having a white Christmas, and if you can't figure out exactly why that should be so important, well....blame Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin.  This is the original version from 1942.

 2.  Winter Wonderland: the author of this song was Dick Smith, who wrote this song in 1934, a year before he died (the day before his 34th birthday) from the tuberculosis that had plagued him for much of his life.  The man who set this poem to music, Felix Bernard, was Jewish.  



This song was originally intended for Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.  This cover is sung by Dean Martin.

3.  The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire):  The Nat King Cole version is one of my favorite songs, ever.  This brings back so many memories of the holiday season in the late 60's in midtown Manhattan and the vendors who would sell roasted chestnuts.  The fragrance carried for blocks.

For this song, we thank the Jewish songwriters Robert Wells and Mel Torme.  The song was actually written in 1944 but this recording is from 1961.

4.  I chose Andy Williams' cover of Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!, which was written during a 1945 summer heat wave in Chicago by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. (Cahn's birth last name was Cohen and Jule Styne's birth name was Julius Stein).


5.  I'll be Home for Christmas.  As an almost-history major in college, this song makes me think of my aunts and uncles who served during World War II. 



This song dates from 1943 (World War II), written by Walter Kent (who was Jewish) and Kim Gannon, and was originally sung by Bing Crosby, but I chose a later version from 1957 as covered by Elvis Presley.

5. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Ralph Blaine and Hugh Martin, has been featured in a number of movies over the years. This comes from the 1942 movie "Meet Me in St. Louis" and is sung by Judy Garland.



Last but not least, something I picked up in my research:  remember Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?  It would seem that Johnny Marks, the author of that song (and also "Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas")  was Jewish.

So here we are with "Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree"  as sung by Brenda Lee.

And "A Holly Jolly Christmas", sung by Burl Ives, from the classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer TV special that is still shown.

Here is another list for your enjoyment.

Think of the themes of these songs:  Missing your home.  Childhood nostalgia.  Enjoying a season of lights and happiness. The different child (or reindeer), scorned by others, who becomes the best of all.  These are universal themes, and this is why these songs, I think, are so appealing, no matter who wrote them.  I also find it interesting that so many of these songs were written in the 1940's.

Join me next week for more holiday magic at #MusicMovesMe.

14 comments:

  1. Very nice set of tunes here. Brenda Lee is among my favorites, but the baritone crooners are the very definition of Christmas for most people. Have a blessed week.

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  2. Great job! I based my post a couple of years ago on this article: https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/music/22910/have-yourself-a-jewish-little-christmas

    I think you'll enjoy it.

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  3. Great songs. We picked two of the same this week. Thanks for sharing them and the knowledge behind them.

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  4. That may be related to the fact that the movies were desperate for light fare and were willing to pay musicians to 'illuminate' their movies.

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  5. White Christmas is the most ridiculous wish ever, bad roads, dangerous travel etc! Suck it Irving Berlin for propagating this fantasy that millions of people still buy! Well I feel better getting that off my Jewish chest!

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  6. A lot of favourites here! Talented, talented people and I'm so grateful for them!

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  7. I did know that many Christmas songs were written by Jewish composers. I'm reminded that Neil Diamond did a couple Christmas albums. The story goes that he asked his mother if it would be OK. Apparently it was.

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  8. I kind of sort of knew all this, but I’m glad you compiled it in one post.

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  9. Because of WWII I think there was a great deal of nostalgia surrounding families being together, again. Healthy, happy families not torn apart by death or war.

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  10. I love this post. I love that you did some research and unearthed this information about the Christmas carols that we all love so much.

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  11. Love this list, especially that it starts with Irving Berlin. Did you see that fascinating Times article about God Bless America back in November? I think you may have commented on my FB share but I'm reminded of it again. For anyone who missed it, click here!

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  12. Alana,

    Furtastic set of Christmas mewsic you have here. I love all of the beloved Christmas classics and while you pointed out most of these were from a non-Christmas or secular standpoint but like you I consider these songs very much as 'Christmas' songs. They are beautifully written with heart-warming messages of hope, love, or dreams. 'White Christmas' debuted in the holiday classic 'Holiday Inn'. I bet Irvin Berlin didn't imagine his song being such the sensation that it is since its release, huh? It's perhaps my favorite non-Christian Christmas tune. Thanks for sharing the history accompanying your song selections, my friend. Have a joyful and blessed Christmas!

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  13. I loved learning more about some of my favorite classic Christmas songs! Very very cool. :) Thanks so much for the festive dance! :)

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