Perhaps you are having guests over around the holidays. What do you chose from the infinitesimal number of Christmas songs to put on your play list? Play some songs by crooners, the best singers. In the early 1920’s, male singers highly popularized jazz ballads with subtle vocal nuances. I’ve listed 10 of my favorite male Christmas crooners here for you. I’ll mention some ladies too, because they can’t be overlooked.
Nat King Cole is the top because of his silky voice and the sheer volume of Christmas material. He began singing in the 1930’s and became popular in 1943 with “Straighten up and Fly Right”. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) debuted in 1946, although any other song by him would work on your play list.
After Nat King Cole, the rest of the ordering is somewhat arbitrary.
Louis (Louie) Armstrong has one of the most characteristic voices I know. His “Cool Yule” for Christmas is vintage Louie. He is often credited with making jazz what it is today. In 1917 he started playing in bands and you’d know songs such as “When the Saints Come Marching in” (1930’s) and “What a Wonderful World” (1968). Not bad for someone learning how to play the coronet after 14 years of age.
Mr. Christmas, Andy Williams started his solo career in the 1960’s. His rendition of “Christmas Holiday” has the earthiest sound. “My Favorite Things” is another favorite of mine.
It’s just not Christmas without any Bing Crosby tune on the stereo. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (1943) and “White Christmas” (1942) became popular during WWII. Bing started his career in the 1920’s, which spanned at least 3 decades with top-rated songs.
Perry Como is also well known for his Christmas tunes. However, Ave Maria is both my favorite and his best selling song (overall, his declaration). Perry also had many popular Christmas specials during the 1940’s to early 1990’s.
Now, perhaps it’s just because I love Lou Rawls, but his “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (1967) is fabulous. It was originally popularized by Judy Garland in 1944. He started with singing Gospel, and his career spanned more than 50 years, in different styles.
Gene Autry is best known for singing Western style (dubbed the Singing Cowboy), but I would say “Silver Bells” is very worthy of being in this list. He became known as the Christmas Cowboy when “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Rudolph the Red nose Reindeer” both of the late 1940’s became popular. I have to say here, that Ray Charles does a fantastic version of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”.
Old Blue Eyes is another not-to-be-missed. Frank Sinatra who entered the crooning scene in 1946 with his album “The voice of Frank Sinatra” sings “White Christmas”(1944) at his best. Since I’ve done an honorable mention before, let me make another one. Michael Bublé does Frank Sinatra well, and his “I’ll be home for Christmas” is grand.
“I left my heart in San Francisco” says Tony Bennett like no other song does, but Christmas-wise, his recent 2008 “Winter Wonderland” is my favorite of his. He does it his way. His “A Swingin’ Christmas” Album with the Count Basie Big Band (2008) is remarkable.
What can I say? No Christmas list would be complete without Elvis. He hit it big with “Elvis’ Christmas Album” in 1957 which contains “Blue Christmas”, his version of a Ernest Tubb’s hit from 1949.
Now that I’ve listed the men in a traditional crooner list, it’s time for the ladies, in no particular order. My favorite is Rosemary Clooney (“Christmas Time is Here”). Do not miss Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby”, Ella Fitzgerald’s “Sleigh Ride”, Lena Horne’s “Jingle All the Way”, or Mary Stalling’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. In addition, put Marlena Shaw’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, Julie Andrew’s “Favorite Things”, Peggy Lee’s “Happy Holiday”, Aretha Franklin’s “Joy to the World” and, of course, Natalie Cole’s “Sleigh Ride” on that play list too.
Most of these artists have their own website, but Wikipedia on these singers is very well referenced.