GOGR Music History -
A Grand Ole Gospel Christmas

As Christmas approaches, my thoughts turn toward some of the great gospel music Christmas recordings. My loyal readers realize that most of my comments will focus upon gospel music recorded from the 1940s through the 1980s. This isnít to say that good Christmas recordings havenít been made since 1980 . . . but only that Iíll probably focus my thoughts upon some of the earlier times. Evie and Amy Grant are often in my CD player during the Christmas season, but my comments will be directed toward artists prior to their appearance on the religious music scene.

We all know that the focal point of Christmas is toward the Christ child. However, the joys of Christmas also focus on friends, family, and Santa Claus. While I would never diminish the importance of teaching the story of Jesus, I also recognize that there are also some secular considerations when the Christmas season is mentioned.

That being said, Iíd like to call your attention to some of my favorite gospel artists as they perform Christmas music. If I mention "Santa Claus" or "reindeer," please forgive me. Iím not attempting to be politically correct. Iím just calling your attention to some of the great Christmas songs as recorded by gospel music artists. Some were even secular, God forbid!

One of the earliest attempts at Christmas recordings by a gospel artist was by the Blackwood Brothers in the late 1940s. They recorded six Christmas songs for their private label. All were sacred recordings. They were released in a 78 rpm album of Christmas favorites.

During this time, few artists were willing to release Christmas material. For example, the LeFevres released "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" on the Bibletone label, but the flip side was "Waiting for the Call." I wish many other artists had followed their lead and released Christmas recordings.

Some of my favorite Christmas recordings by gospel artists include:

Blackwood Brothers
Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Private label 1105-1107


These are the recordings I mentioned in my introductory paragraphs. These recordings were released in an album set and featured Roy Blackwood, James Blackwood, R.W. Blackwood, Bill Lyles, and Hilton Griswold. One of the first Christmas recordings by a gospel quartet.


Florida Boys
Beautiful Star of Bethlehem / Silent Night
Whit 2007

Although this was a very early recording by the Florida Boys, they werenít afraid to release a Christmas single. Nice Christmas music from this historical group.

Cathedral Quartet
A Cathedral Christmas A Capella
Riversong ZLP 8506

If you love acapella music, then this recording is great for you. Itís quite short, but the songs are nice, and itís the Cathedrals at their acapella best. Nice chord changes and progressions by one of the finest groups in gospel music. If you like the early 1980s Cathedrals, youíll love their treatment of these Christmas classics. They even include a few novelty numbers, which was "cutting edge" for 1985, although they werenít mentioned on the album cover.

 

Couriers Quartet
Joy to the World and other Christmas Favorites by the Couriers
Scripture 104

There are few gospel groups that exemplify the class of the Couriers Quartet. This class continues through this Christmas album. All of these sacred classics are done to perfection.

 

Gospel Singing Caravan
Seasons Greetings by the Gospel Singing Caravan
SING 556

I honestly had never opened this album until I began writing this article. Itís nice to hear the members of the Gospel Singing Caravan sing Christmas classics. I especially loved "Jingle Bells" as performed by the lovely Johnson Sisters. I also enjoyed the voices of Bill Crowe and Jay Berry as their wonderful voices were prominent on songs with the Caravan Choir. The LeFevres, Blue Ridge Quartet, Prophets Quartet, and Johnson Sisters fill out this recording with many Christmas classics.

 

Harvesters Quartet
Silent Night
Harvesters Ep 672-3

This extended play recording by the Harvesters has been one of my favorites for many years. Side one features a wonderful recitation of "The Night Before Christmas" along with "Jingle Bells." The second side of this recording features Bill Hefner, Buddy Parker, Don Norman, Jay Simmons, and Jack Clark performing "Silent Night" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear."

 

Blackwood Brothers and
Statesmen Quartet
The Blackwood Brothers and Statesmen Quartet Wish You a Musical Merry Christmas
RCA LPM/LSP 2606

This is one of my favorite Christmas recordings. Five songs feature the Blackwood Brothers and five songs feature the Statesmen. Sacred and secular songs are included on this recording by the top groups in gospel music. This recording was later released as "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" on RCA Camden records.

Statesmen
Silent Night
Vine 1014

This Christmas collection by the Statesmen trio was Doy Ottís final recording. The recording has nice orchestral instrumentation. Most of the songs are presented as solos by Jake, Doy, Rosie, and Hovie. The arrangements of these sacred Christmas songs are rather straight forward, but itís nice to hear these gentlemen sing anything!

Statesmen Quartet
Santa Claus Song / White Christmas
Capitol 40263

Silent Night / White Christmas
Statesmen 1019

One of the rarest and most collectable Christmas recordings is by the Statesmen Quartet. This Capitol record was never available on LP, and I would consider it to be the rarest commercially available Statesmen Quartet recording.

The "Santa Claus Song" was written by Lee Roy Abernathy and features Big Chief at his best. Irving Berlinís "White Christmas" has the classic Statesmen treatment as they do this song to perfection. These are my favorite two "gospel" Christmas classics. This recording is hard to find, but well worth the time and funds it will cost to acquire it. The Statesmen later recorded "White Christmas" on their private label with a nice Hovie Lister rendition of "Silent Night" on the flip side.

There are several other Christmas recordings that deserve mention here, but these are my ten favorites. "The Star Carol" by Tennessee Ernie Ford was one of the top selling albums from 1958. The Imperials released a Christmas collection in 1980, but by that time they were out of the gospel music mainstream. In recent years, my favorite gospel Christmas project is "Treasure These Moments" by the Booth Brothers. They feature a nice blend of sacred and secular Christmas classics.

Thank you all for your questions and comments. I welcome your response and comments. Please contact me at john@grandolegospelreunion.com.

I trust you will have a wonderful holiday season, and I hope to see you again in 2006. May God bless you all.

 


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