By Katherine Cole
If you stick to mainstream media, you might believe that Taylor Swift or Mariah Carey are the only ones singing holiday songs. But that’s not true—in fact, there were a couple of very cool seasonal releases that I want to make sure you know about. Because if you don’t hear about ’em from me, odds are you’re going to miss them this time around.
Edie Adams in a nutshell: she could do it all. I’m not kidding. Adams, who graduated from the famed Julliard School as a trained singer, was also an actress and comedian whose career included working in nightclubs and films and on stage and television. Married to Ernie Kovacs, a groundbreaking comedy star of the early years of US television, the songs on this album were all recorded in the early to mid 1950’s for a television program of his called “Kovacs Unlimited.” I spoke with Ms. Adams’ son, Josh Mills, who said that between Thanksgiving and Christmas she sang a holiday song every day on this program. The video for most of these these shows was lost decades ago, but Edie Adams had the forethought to hire a company to record her songs so that she could have a record of herself singing them. Just as a personal keepsake. Now, 60 years later, they’ve been released and it’s a big deal to those of us who love the ‘Golden Age” of American entertainment. There’s just not that much “new old stuff” out there.
In case you’re wondering what US television looked like back in the “old days,” here’s a glimpse. Edie Adams performing “Christmas in Killarney” on another Ernie Kovacs television show in 1955. This is not the same recording as is featured on The Edie Adams Christmas Album, but the song is on that disc, too.
Bela Fleck & The Flecktone’s wonderful “Jingle All The Way” has been out for a few years now, but it’s one I pulled out and featured on my holiday edition of Roots and Branches. As you might expect, the group breathes new life into classics including “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “What Child Is This” and “The 12 Days of Christmas.” This fan shot video gives you a pretty good idea of what you would have experienced had you seen a Flecktones Christmas show. You’ve probably heard this song played a million times before, but check out the twist on this new version: each day is in a different key…and a different time signature.
By the way, every year some smarty pants sits down and calculates the costs of each of the gifts given in the 12 days of Christmas. This year the grand total is $107,300 US.
And while we’re on the subject of banjos, earlier this year we lost Earl Scruggs, perhaps the most influential banjo picker of all time. He was known to pick a Christmas tune, or two—like this tasty version of “Jingle Bells.” And since you may not recognize the other guys playing with him, I’ll help you out—from left to right it’s: Randy Scruggs (guitar), Sam Bush (mandolin), Phil Leadbetter (dobro), Earl Scruggs (banjo), Ricky Skaggs (mandolin), and Gary Scruggs (bass). Excellent pickers, all of them.
Do you have a favorite “out of the mainstream” holiday tune? If so, please share it with us in the comments. And happy holidays from all of us on the Music Beat.