Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ethel Smith - Silent Night-Holy Night

I was originally planning to post a stereo version of "Woody The Woodchuck - Christmas Sing Song" today, ending my Christmas in July celebration. However, the album you are looking might be my vinyl find of the year. It carries much significance because it was much sought after (by me at least), involves our good friend Ernie (not Bert), and in ways crystalizes what our royal highness, the King Of Jingaling, wanted to do when he started

You might be scratching your head wondering what I'm talking about but go with me here... read on and all will be revealed.

Ethel Smith was a graduate of Carnegie Tech who majored in music and language (she was fluent in French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and German) whose talents at the piano led her to movie houses, theaters, then vaudeville tours. Along the way, she worked at department stores demonstrating organs and became so proficient that she strictly played the organ from then on.

Around WWII, she toured Brazil and Argentina extensively (the languages helped no doubt). One night, she was in "a cheap dance hall" and came across a combo trio playing a certain song. She had never heard it before, quickly adapted it to her act, and brought it with her back to the United States. America's musical tastes were very South American at this time (Carmen Miranda was HUGELY popular at this time) and when Ethel played this song, crowds went wild.

The song was "Tico-Tico". Decca Records signed Ethel to a recording contract and her recording was a smash. Suddenly, Hollywood came calling. She appeared in many movie musicals of the day - including a memorable turn in the 1948 Disney movie "Melody Time" with Donald Duck and Jose (Joe) Carioca. Ethel plays "Blame It On The Samba" on the big Hammond organ (you also see her play bongos and dance) as the tune gets faster and faster. Ethel plays furiously to keep up while Donald and Joe stick dynamite under her pedals and blows the organ up!

For the next decade, Smith recorded nearly 30 albums and dozens of singles for Decca Records. Her first foray into Christmas music was in 1950 when she recorded a box of four 45 singles and called it "Christmas Songs" (Decca 9-92). A majority of these songs were released on a 2-EP set called "Christmas Music" (Decca ED 558) somewhere between 1951 and 1954. Finally, Decca repackaged this music one more time in 1955 on its very own LP called "Christmas Music" (Decca DL-8187).

By the end of the 1950s, two things happened to Decca Records that involved Ethel Smith. The first event was Ethel was appearing more and more in nightclubs and on television in acting roles. Smith gave up her organ for acting full time and her contract with Decca ended. The second event was Decca had relaunched Vocalion, a long defunct record label, to issue budget releases from its bulging catalog.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Vocalion churned out repackaged albums full of songs by great artists like Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby, and Ethel Smith but never printed the year of release on any of their albums, record labels, or sleeves. They could recall their product at any time, box it up, and resell it at a future time.

Thankfully, the official website of Peggy Lee has an extensive discography and shows that a Vocalion release by Lee ("Crazy In The Heart" VL-73903) was released in March, 1970. Using this information, I have determined that this Ethel Smith album (VL-73882) was most likely released for the Christmas season of 1969.

I had been searching for Ethel's "Christmas Music" LP for quite some time and didn't want to pay the $20 - $30 that I had seen it for on eBay. So when I discovered this album for 10 cents at a garage sale, I nearly passed out.

As I was driving home, I remembered that Ernie had posted some Ethel Smith tracks as part of his Christmas in July celebration and he too was looking for the full album. Ernie, thanks for helping all of us and myself celebrate the yuletide early.

If if hadn't been for the King Of Jingaling setting up two years ago, I would have never met Ernie. Ernie and myself truly believe in the King's mission statement - "Preserving Memories Of Christmas Vinyl Past". You have been sorely missed this Christmas In July, mighty King, whilest thou sets up your new palatial digs and pray for thy speedy return to reign over your kingdom.

This album is dedicated to both Ernie and The King Of Jingaling:

Ethel Smith - Silent Night-Holy Night

Beats listening to woodchucks in stereo (yes, I'll post that eventually)! Happy listening...



PDMan said...

Nice work! Thanks!

I remember ALMOST picking this LP up at a yard sale a while back. I think they wanted a buck for it.

Ernie said...

Thanks a lot, Cap'n! But I'm still going to keep my eye out for a copy of my own. :)

Luciano said...

Dear Friend,

I am from Brazil and I love Ethel's music so much!
This is the only source I have found for this entire album, but now the link at rapishare is broken...
Could you please repost this album?
I would be very thankful!


CaptainOT said...

Luciano - Why wait? Ernie has several of her albums available - most of which were repackaged into this album.

Click on the link for his blog at the top of my blog!