Holidays #6

Happy Holiday

This song was written by Irving Berlin and used in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn. The movie covers a number of Holidays and includes the now iconic “White Christmas” and “Easter Parade”. The song to represent New Years was “Happy Holiday” and it was performed by Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds. Martha Mears voice was used (dubbed in) instead as it was for many an actress such as Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, Hedy Lamarr, Claudette Colbert and over two dozen more.

The song is played in the mix of Christmas themed songs as it fits the festive mood for the more generic playlist. Berlin had been tasked with writing a song for each holiday of the year and includes “Be Careful it’s My Heart” for Valentines Day.

As Holiday songs go it has not been covered as often and secondhdandsongs.com lists 57 versions, which for any other song is a lot, but for songs of the Season, many have over 1000 versions each so this one may not enter the the top 25. Still a lovely sentiment and it along with the rest of the songs from the movie shows the brilliance of Irving Berlin.

The song did not take off and garner covers right away such as the three in 1942 (now 2163 and counting) versions of “White Christmas”. It was 13 years later that it appeared on a Christmas themed record Happy Holiday by Jo Stafford (1955).

Kat Edmonson included the song on her 2021 album Holiday Swingin’! – A Kat Edmonson Christmas Vol. 1

Holidays #2

“Winter Wonderland”

This song was written as a poem by Richard (Dick) Smith as he admired the freshly fallen snow in his hometown of Honesdale Pennsylvania. Smith had Tuberculous, but before he succumbed to the disease in 1934 he showed the poem to his friend Felix Bernard who composed the music. The most popular version was the cover by Guy Lombardo which came out just a week after the original (above) on the competing Decca Records. Over the years it has been recorded by just about every major name from the 1930’s through to today’s stars such as Norah Jones and Thomas Rhett. It is the tenth most recorded song of all time with 1560 versions, just ahead of “Over the Rainbow” that currently has 1490 renditions.

There is no mention of Christmas at all in the song but of course it is full of the imagery of freshly fallen snow, sleigh bells and young love. The fictitious Parson Brown becomes a Circus Clown in the more children friendly version.

Here are some of the more popular versions, both Bennett and Love have charted with this song.

Personally I have to go with this swinging version by Ella Fitzgerald but I am sure you have your favorite(s).

References: 1,2,3

Holiday #6

“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”

As I “wrap up” my miniseries on Billie Holiday I will finish with the only song she recorded that is associated with Christmas. That is to say it is not a Christmas song at all, however since it’s debut in the Musical, On the Avenue in 1937 the song has snuggled it’s way onto Christmas Albums by many an artist. It was first performed in the movie by Dick Powell and Alice Faye, the first record was by Ray Noble, which was released January 27, 1937 so chronologically it came out before the February 4, movie debut.

Billie was one of at least 10 artists to cover this song in it’s first year of release, and her version is often mentioned when referring to the more memorable renditions of the song. Written by Irving Berlin, the lyrics reference, wind, snow, cold, icicles and the month of December. At the time it was being recorded by Billie and many others it was a song about love and warmth, not a Holiday or Christmas song.

Here is a clip from the movie.

I am sure many of us are having our fill of Holiday and Christmas songs and for many December 26 brings some welcome relief in more ways than one. However tis’ the Season and so I thought to kick off my contribution I would give a little background on some of the songs such as this one that were not purpose designed. Many of the songs around Christmas and the Holidays have some interesting origins. For more on that story you can check out my upcoming Holidays #1 post.

If you have read some of my past posts you know how I love to connect the dots. I will leave you an interesting link between “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and Christmas Songs.

First, here is the legendary Jazz Guitarist Django Reinhardt and his oft partner the equally legendary Jazz Violinist St├ęphane Grappelli with their instrumental version from 1938.

Again from 1938 we have Reinhardt but this time featuring the Violin stylings of the amazing Michel Warlop with “Christmas Swing”. In this case…perhaps all roads lead to Reinhardt.

references: 1, 2, 3,

Holiday #4

“Don’t Explain”

Written by Billie Holiday and as she did on most of her songs collaborated with Arthur Herzog. The lyrics are deeply personal, coming from her knowledge that her husband Jimmy Monroe was sleeping with other women. Always delivered with that haunting intensity this song has inspired 260 versions to date. It was recorded in 1945 and released in June of 1946. It would be the last song she wrote.

There are so many remarkable covers of this song that it was impossible for me to choose just one to post. However, Nina Simone is where I often land, I don’t think I have to “explain” that…

This song has dozens of instrumentals, once again there are so many versions from artists on my favorites list.

You may recognize the name Don Shirley if you watched The Green Book, here he plays a medley of her songs including “Don’t Explain” and is accompanied by bassist Ken Fricker and cellist Juri Taht.

I will provide a couple of links at the end to other covers but as I said it was so hard to chose; here are the sublime Chet Baker from his tribute album, Bakers Holiday (1965) and Saxophone great Dexter Gordon from 1964.

More links: Herbie Hancock feat. Lisa Hannigan and Damien Rice, Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa, Grover Washington Jr. and the always amazing Molly Johnson.

Holiday #3

“God Bless The Child”

When I write about cover songs, I like to look and talk about numbers. As we all know there are many ways to look at statistics. My major source is Secondhandsongs.com. For example there are categories such as the most covered songs by title, there is the most covered singer songwriters and the most covered authors (lyricists and composers). There is also a category for the most covered performers, which does not take into account who wrote the song, just who sang it. As many of these lists are, it is dominated by male performers, The Beatles being at the top. The first female is Judy Garland at #11 and the next is Billie Holiday at #23.

As an author of songs Billie may not rank as high on the lists but for writing her own songs Holliday is best known for “God Bless the Child” (co-written with her oft collaborator Arthur Herzog Jr.) from 1939, first recorded in 1941. There are over 500 versions of this remarkable song. In her autobiography Billie said the inspiration for the song came from an argument with her mother over money. Billie had said to her “God Bless the Child that got his own”. The lyrics start with a reference to the Book of Matthew from the New Testament. She took the draft lyrics to Arthur Herzog and they fleshed out the rest of the song.

Cover by Dee Dee Bridgewater (2010).

Andra Day won a Golden Globe for her portrayal in the 2021 biopic The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Long before she got the role Cassandra Monique Batie, had taken the stage name as an homage to Billie Holiday who’s’ nickname was Lady Day. Billie gave the nickname “Prez” to Saxophone player and longtime friend Lester Young, in return he called her Lady Day.

Holiday #2

“I’ll Be Seeing You”

Billie Holiday is most certainly not alone in having challenging life experiences, but from an early age she was forced to look after herself and learn how to survive. Singers and songwriters will often say that pain, suffering and broken hearts can make for the best songs. Billie was able to channel her feelings and emotions into her singing, again not a unique quality but few did it as well and it’s one of the reasons she is set apart from others. From the serious topics to the more lighthearted where she delivered some of the most vivacious performances you will ever see, such as her interpretations of classic Blues and American Standards not mention the songs she wrote/co-wrote.

No matter how hard I try I will never understand how difficult her life was, not only as a child but especially as a Black woman trying to make a living as a singer. From what I have read, being a person of the times and culture in 1930’s and beyond, even as her career developed into Superstardom, she was often forced to do as she was told. As much as she railed against it, many times she just had no choice. While it varied from place to place she would encounter things such as entering through the delivery or service door, as Blacks were not allowed to use the front door. At some places Blacks could not even be a guest in the audience, even if they were performing at the venue. Perhaps it was not being able to find a hotel that accepted Blacks, or being refused service in restaurants. But when she was in front of the microphone she channelled her energy and gave her heart and soul. Her life cut short by illnesses brought on by her addictions and she died at age 44. Billie was not a Rock and Roll singer but on July 17, 1959 it was another “day the music died”.

For me one of her many enduring songs is “I’ll Be Seeing You” that she recorded in 1944. Written by the great composer Sammy Fain (“Love is a Many Splendored Thing”) and the fine lyricist Irving Kahal. The song, including many instrumentals has been recorded over 500 times. It was first performed by Tamara (Drasin) a Ukrainian born singer who was one of the leading actors on Broadway until her tragic death in a plane crash while on her way to entertain troops during WWII. Bing Crosby hit #1 also in 1944 and the song had charted for Frank Sinatra in 1940. From an article in Ebony Magazine in 1958 Sinatra cites Billie Holiday or Lady Day as she was often referred, as his “greatest single musical influence” and that she was “unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years”.

Thi song did not chart for Billie and her version is perhaps overlooked. However, evn as there are truly many lovely renditions of this beautiful song, as she was so often able to do, when you hear her sing you forget that anyone else had done it before or since.

The first recording was by Dick Todd with Orchestra in 1940

From his 2019 album, Joe Pesci…still singing

Thanks for reading.

Holiday #1

As promised I am posting a series on Billie Holiday.

There have been other names but you can connect the dots of important women in Blues and Jazz music with Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Most of my readers will know about Holiday but since this is the first in a short series I will give you this link to her bio from BillieHoliday.com.

From Wikipedia I gathered a few things everyone should know about her. She was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia, and to say she overcame horrendous circumstances is and understatement. She was abandoned by her father (believed to be Clarence Halliday) and then passed around by her mother to live among relatives throughout her early life. By the time she was 12 she had been sexually assaulted and was running errands for money at a brothel or scrubbing floors. She re-joined her mother who had left for Harlem by 1929. She began singing in nightclubs as a young teen and her first recordings, with the help of John Hammond were in 1933 at age 18. From there she would work with the leading names in Jazz and Blues including Count Basie and Artie Shaw.

She would rise to the highest height of success and not unlike many in the business she had her issues with alcohol and drug abuse. No doubt a combination of past trauma and getting caught up in the fast life of an entertainer she would struggle with addiction the rest of her life. At a pivotal point in her career she came to the attention of the FBI. This would lead to her incarceration on a drug charge. The song that brought her great success but also got her labeled a subversive or worse was “Strange Fruit”. From her first live performance in 1939 the evocative song about lynching and racism in the South would always stun the audience and serve as an education to many. Her insistence on recording it and continuing to sing it despite the warnings was likely the reason she came to the attention of law enforcement in the first place. Anyone singing protest songs and in this case about racism or lynching, in the late 1930’s and 1940’s attracted unwanted attention from authorities. Particularity for an outspoken Black woman.

Strange Fruit” is a courageous recording by the legendary Billie Holiday from 1939. This song makes an appearance on my “25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #51-75” post. It is from a poem by another brave soul, Lewis Allan (Abel Meeropol) as a protest against racism and lynchings in the American South. He put the poem to a tune and his wife and others sang it at protest rallies. The lyrics are dark and disturbing. Eventually the song made its way to Holiday who first added it to close her Nightclub act. It was only recorded after her efforts to find a label willing to do it. Her delivery is haunting and deeply emotional. Covered over 100 times. Here is  Nina Simone  with an equally amazing version from 1965.

You can find my post on Nina Simone from 2019 here.