The Perfect Soundtrack To The Holiday Season, From VPR Music

Nov 21, 2017

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.

“I consider the holidays to be a kind of thematic and emotional combo platter. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a house where genre was considered a doorway to increased musical enjoyment, as opposed to a prison, I never really learned how to segregate music. Simply put, these are songs and artists, I love.” — Reuben Jackson

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.  

Listen to this year’s holiday playlist.

"My choices reflect the music my sister and I always put on repeat during the holidays. Christmas is the best time of year in the Shelmandine household — pots of caramel cooking, chocolate melting and prep for making everyone's holiday season merry and bright." — Annalise Shelmandine

Music comes from the heart so, from our hearts to yours, happy holidays!

The old red mill in Jericho, Vermont.
Credit HABesen / iStock

— This Year's Playlist —

“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.

Listen to this year’s holiday playlist.

"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.

Cross finding the perfect playlist for the hours of kitchen holiday prep off your list. We've got you!
Credit KarpenkovDenis / iStock

“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…

Listen to this year’s holiday playlist.

“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.  

Listen to this year’s holiday playlist.

"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.  

Your soundtrack to snowy strolls along freshly plowed roads is here!
Credit dszc / iStock

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.

Listen to this year’s holiday playlist.

"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.

Listen to this year’s holiday playlist.

"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.”

Credit ninode / iStock

"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.

Listen to this year’s holiday playlist.

“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.

VPR Music's 2017 Holiday Playlist

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