They sang songs that made the ladies go wild, scream with delight, even pull out their hankies. Yes, these dudes could make the girls cry. Some are still at it today, ringing in the holiday season with their smooth vocals that can turn a marvelous Christmas melody into a spectacular song. Compare your list to these top ten of the best, most popular Christmas crooners of all time.
1. Nathaniel Adams Cole, aka Nat King Cole, is the “swinging-est,” “grooving-est” cat to ever take the stage. That’s why he takes the number one spot on my list. Growing up in Chicago gave Cole plenty of opportunity to hone his craft. The pianist’s career jumped-off in 1937 with the formation of his group, The King Cole Trio during the swing era. He hit pay dirt with chart-topper “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” (1943). Other faves include “Mona Lisa,” “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me,” “Unforgettable,” and my all-time fave, “Route 66.” He recorded one of the most memorable songs of the holiday season, “The Christmas Song,” in 1946. Today, it’s still the standard, reigning as one of the pianist’s highest-selling records. Nat King Cole continues to rock Christmas!
2. When you mention crooners, you can’t help but think about one of the original guys who defined the word– Bing Crosby. The music bug got Crosby while at law school in Spokane. The Tacoma native hit the road with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra in 1927. He combined a film career and music successfully, appearing in his first flick in 1931. Also a prolific songwriter during “swing time,” by the late 1930’s, his tunes were top sellers. “Where The Blue of the Night,” and “Going My Way,” are signature songs, however his rendition of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” created a timeless tune, forever etched in Americana and always part of Christmas celebrations. Ladies and gents, Bing is smooth!
3. This handsome crooner was destined to be a high jumping star. The San Francisco State champ was headed for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia when fate made a directional change. Choosing the music over the track, Johnny Mathis answered the call to record with Columbia Records. His first hit: “Wonderful, Wonderful.” Other gems include “Misty,” “Chances Are,” and duet with Deniece Williams, “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late.” Click on the song to hear one of my Mathis Christmas stand-outs: “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Getting in the Christmas mood yet?
4. The holiday season has it’s share of cowboy crooners. You may remember this Texan’s smooth voice singing tunes on the silver screen. Gene Autry was an actor, songwriter, composer, and author, to name a few talents. He was known as the “Singing Cowboy” during the ’30’s, ’40’s and 50’s. He bought his own production company and produced movies, plus his own TV show. He wrote and sang the popular tune, “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
5. Many singers get their start singing in church. Count Andy Williams in that mix. What’s more, he and his brothers, went from the choir at their local Presbyterian church, to singing with another crooner on this list, Bing Crosby with his hit, “Swinging On A Star.” Small world, right? Andy worked the nightclubs in the 50’s, then embarked on a lucrative career with Columbia Records, knocking out hits like “Can’t Get Used To Losing You” and the one I like to hear Williams sing any day of the week– “Moon River,” his signature song. Andy adds a little Christmas cheer with his version of “Happy Holidays.”
6. How about a New Orleans style Christmas? That is just the kind of flavor you will get with contemporary crooner and jazzman Harry Connick, Jr.. Performing a-la-Sinatra style, the child prodigy recorded his first record before he was 15. Snazzy. Coming from the “jazz mecca” of the South, he was surrounded by awesome talent, like the Marsalis family. (You know, as in Wynton and Branford). He has a slew of recordings: “We Are In Love,” and that all-familiar Sinatra standard, “The Way You Look Tonight, ” to name a few. Add this song to your holiday hit parade–“Please Come Home For Christmas.”
7. Picture this: Dean Martin on stage with a mic, a drink, a cigarette, and a song. Loose as a goose, but he knows how to belt one out. Oh, yes he does! The Ohio native born Dino Paul Crocetti, is best known for his partnership with comedian Jerry Lewis, back in the 40’s. Then, he took up with the “Rat Pack” in the 60’s. He churned out hits for Capitol Records like “That’s Amore,” and “When You’re Smiling.” Get warmed up with “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
8. Astoria, Queens, New York was never the same after Anthony Dominick Benedetto hit the big time. (I lived next door in Flushing). That’s right, singer Tony Bennett is about as big as they come. His first record was produced by icon Mitch Miller in 1950, “Because of You.” Of course you know his trademark tune. Where did he leave his heart? Still going strong, Bennett sang “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” at the World Series, same town, this year. He’s a gentleman and a social activist that I have had the pleasure of talking to on several occasions in New York. All I can say is: “Tony, you’re a class act!” Click on the song and listen to him sing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”
9. Talk about oozing with talent. That’s how I would describe Steve Lawrence. Brooklynite Lawrence has been producing fabulous melodies since he joined ASCAP in 1957. His hits could fill a music journal. And, he has a fabulous voice! “At A Time Like This,” “Can’t Get Over The Bossa Nova,” “What’s The Use Of Talking,” “Go Away Little Girl,” and “Hurry Home For Christmas,” are only a drop in the bucket of songs he has written. But one of my Lawrence favorites is a holiday standard written by Felix Bernard and Richard Smith in 1934 where he teams up with his wife Eydie Gorme to sing– “Winter Wonderland.”
10.Undeniably Frank Sinatra had one of the best voices, hands down, in “musicland.” Hoboken, New Jersey’s finest had the “bobby-soxers” crazy over his melodies. Sinatra’s got his start singing big band with Harry James, formerly of the Benny Goodman Orchestra in 1939. On to Tommy Dorsey’s band, and the rest is history. “Ole Blue Eyes” made great history with numerous recordings and a rich catalog of timeless songs. His string of hits include: “My Way,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “My Kind of Town,” “Witchcraft,””I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Summer Wind,””Stranger In The Night,” and “Luck Be A Lady.” Sinatra adds his smooth vocals to “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”
Crooners kept the music cool back in the day. Some are still grooving, keeping the beat alive. An Honorable Mention shout out to Perry Como, Elvis Presley, Mel Torme, Lou Rawls, and Donny Hathaway, who has one of the hippest Christmas songs I know, “This Christmas.” (Go ahead, click on the song!) Have a Happy and Merry Holiday Season, full of good cheer and lots of your favorite Christmas tunes!
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