Whatever your celebrations, VPR Music has you covered with a "genre-free" playlist, sure to make your holidays merry and bright.
Last year, VPR’s Reuben Jackson shared some of his holiday favorites.
This year, he teamed up with VPR’s Annalise Shelmandine for a playlist meant to accompany your celebrations: cooking and baking, oodles of decorating, wrapping gifts and curling up beside the fire with your sweetie.
Music comes from the heart so, from our hearts to yours, happy holidays!
“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” — Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
AS: Ella is a standard in the Shelmandine household throughout the year and given the long winters of Vermont, this upbeat and peppy piece keeps you warm all winter long.
"Sleigh Ride" — Leroy Anderson
RJ: An old friend once referred to this composition as 'instrumental joy and whimsy'. I completely agree.
"Greensleeves" — John Coltrane
RJ: John Coltrane — featured here on soprano saxophone (orchestra arranged and conducted by saxophonist Eric Dolphy) — infuses the old English folk song 'Greensleeves' with a kind of wistful warmth.
“Carol of the Bells a.k.a. Opera of the Bells” — Destiny’s Child
AS: A gorgeous re-imagining of a classic holiday piece. If you love to sing, grab a harmony line and join in — this piece is one of the Shelmandine sisters' favorite for belting out.
"I Want To Come Home For Christmas" — Marvin Gaye
RJ: I am a Washington, D.C. native, as was Marvin Gaye. I once told a friend that I considered his voice an aural skyscraper — a fount of longing.
"Merry Christmas Baby" — Otis Redding
RJ:My late brother and I used to argue the respective merits of artists found on Stax Records in Memphis, and those on Motown. I deeply loved the former — especially the late, Dawson, Georgia-born, soul drenched vocalist Otis Redding. Otis and the famed Stax horn section are expressing Yule-centered love, but this ember could well burn far beyond December.
“Christmas Time is Here” — Vince Guaraldi Trio
AS: This is an Arthur Shelmandine favorite passed on down to his kids and now, whenever I hear it, it reminds me of my jovial father setting the holiday mood.
"Dear Mister Santa Claus" — Hank Jones
RJ: Detroit-born pianist Hank Jones was — and is — invention and sublime lyricism personified. I have it on good authority that Saint Nick has this reading of 'Dear' on his playlist.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” — Judy Garland
AS: As a vocalist, I am attracted to beautiful, unique voices and top of that list is the timeless Judy Garland. Having her velvety voice serenade during the holiday season makes everything feel right.
"Christmas Eve" — Billy Eckstine
RJ: Billy Eckstine’s voice is smoother than top shelf eggnog, and as evocative as a winter night In Vermont. Need I say more? Put the children to bed and listen…
“Santa Baby” — Eartha Kitt, Henri Rene & His Orchestra
AS: The singular stylings of Eartha are contagious, even if you weren’t a fan before, I challenge you to not swoon on every deliciously placed consonant, note and slide. A class act not to be competed with.
"White Christmas" — Charlie Parker
RJ: I love the hip, bebop-tinged warmth found in saxophonist Charlie Parker’s take on the Irving Berlin evergreen.”
"Ave Maria" — Jo Stafford
RJ: A reprise of 'Ave Maria' by one of the greatest vocalists-storytellers-Jo Elizabeth Stafford. A great example of what Duke Ellington called 'soul on soul.'
"O Holy Child" — Dusty Springfield
RJ: As the old cliche goes, the late Dusty Springfield could sing the telephone book (remember those?) and break your heart. Even if you aren’t particularly religious, this performance lingers like a star-filled night.
“Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree” — Brenda Lee
AS: When discussing the songs to add this year, when I mentioned this one, Reuben’s eye’s lit up and he quoted the guitar line, which pulls everyone from the east and west coast in the merriment of the holiday season.
"Frosty The Snowman" — The Jackson 5
RJ: Even as a child, Michael Jackson’s vocals fused believability and longing. I find myself pulling for a last-minute miracle — one that will save the snowman from melting. The snowman does, alas, not unlike my heart when I listen to this song.
“It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas” — Perry Como, The Fontane Sisters Mitchell Ayres & His Orchestra
AS: Growing up, my favorite holiday album was “The Time-Life Treasury of Christmas” and from the tolling bells to Perry Como’s iconic voice and style, this song instantly makes me want to scatter tinsel about the house.
All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth — The Platters
RJ: This vocal ensemble was a big part of my childhood. I have always loved this whimsical and characteristically lyrical version of 'All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teet.' Hope you do too.
"Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" — Ella Fitzgerald
RJ: Here, the ever swinging First Lady of Song makes you forget all about any snow-based anxiety you might harbor. 'Let It Snow', indeed!
“White Christmas” — Bing Crosby
AS: As a kid growing up in Vermont, the film White Christmas was mandatory viewing during the holiday season. This song always transports me back to childhood Christmas festivities and reminds me how magical winter in Vermont really is.
"This Christmas" — Donny Hathaway
RJ: This Donny Hathaway composition is, quite simply, a holiday standard. Like all great vocalists, you believe every word and phrase.
“Christmas Wrapping” — The Waitresses
AS: Another favorite of my father’s at Christmastime — this is a way to really rock out this holiday season (although I’ll admit, I’ve never been able to get all the lyrics down).
"Christmas Song" — Rahsaan Roland Kirk
RJ: Multi-reed player Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s take on 'The Christmas Song' always makes me want to snuggle with the warmth and beauty pouring out of his tenor sax.
“Linus and Lucy” — Vince Guaraldi
AS: Nothing says the holidays to me like the swinging piano of Vince Guaraldi. This one is a particular favorite during holiday parties, cooking for turkey day and decking the halls.
“The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” — Alvin and the Chipmunks
AS: This fun and silly tune is a standard in the holiday repertoire of the Shelmandine Sisters. Grab some friends and form a trio to serenade your friends and family with Alvin and his family (or torture co-workers with this ear-worm...it’s proven to work at VPR ;)
"Nutcracker Suite" — Duke Ellington
RJ: The Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s 'Nutcracker' is a must. Here is a taste of their arranging brilliance, and the Ellington Orchestra’s musical magic.
"Slipping Into Christmas" — Leon Russell
RJ: The late pianist-vocalist-composer Leon Russell’s original is bluer than a Christmas tree without lights. But compellingly so.
"The Mistletoe And Me" — Isaac Hayes
RJ: In my next life, I want a warm, melodic, sensual voice similar to that which the late Isaac Hayes possessed. Until then, I can bathe in this Christmas gem. So can you.”
"One Little Christmas Tree" — Stevie Wonder
RJ: As I have said more than once, (I can see my longtime friends scurrying for cover) vocalists are also storytellers. Great vocalists bring the text and melody to life… Soul stirring life. Here is yet another example of Mr. Wonder’s manner of creating an aural hearth.
“O Tannenbaum” — Nat King Cole
AS: No Christmas playlist is complete without the sultry, velvet voice of Nat King Cole. As a student of many languages: Frohe Weihnachten, Joyeux Noël and Buon Natale!
"Christmas Here With You" — Four Tops Aretha Franklin
RJ: Consider the consistent soulful brilliance of the Four Tops’ lead singer Levi Strauss, Abdul Fakir, and, of course the one person choir that is Aretha Franklin present on this recording Who wouldn't want to spend Christmas Day with them, and this compelling sound.
“White Christmas” — Otis Redding
AS: Enjoy the soul drenched vocals of not just Reuben’s but one of my favorites too. From the first chord of the Hammond organ, to the signature Otis Redding vocal line, you feel all the love and passion he’s conveying in the word “I”. Grab your honey and slow dance in the light of the tree to this soulful standard.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” — Ella Fitzgerald
AS: Ella asks the good questions. And she conveys them in a sweet, sultry, gentle melody as only she can. What are YOU doing New Year’s Eve?
"Ave Maria" — Stevie Wonder
RJ: In which a very young Stevie Wonder caresses the lyric and melody in a way that would, as my junior high band teacher used to say, 'make a statue cry.'”
AS: He certainly could do that and to add — this is one of my all-time favorite renditions of this timeless classic. It feels like Wonder is making a plea for peace with every word and today, more than ever, this song resonates in my soul.
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