Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gisele MacKenzie - Joyeux Noël

Before the days of MTV, "Solid Gold", Casey Kasem's TV or radio version of "American Top 40 Countdown", or even Dick Clark's "American Bandstand", there was a program called "Your Hit Parade" that lasted an amazing 24 years on both radio and TV.

From 1935 to 1950, listeners would tune in every Saturday night on the NBC Radio network and listen to the popular shows of the day. It made the successful switch over to television in 1950 where young new talent blossomed every week to perform songs.

Gisele MacKenzie had just arrived in the United States from Canada just as "Your Hit Parade" hit the TV airwaves. She studied voice and violin at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto and even had her own CBC radio show before trekking below the 49th parallel.

It was her violin that got her noticed by another violin player - Jack Benny. 

They both toured together between 1952-1953 and on the basis of Benny's recommendation, NBC hired her onto the "Hit Parade" in 1953. She quickly became the most popular singer on the show which led to various appearances on other radio & TV shows and a recording career.

RCA Records signed her and Gisele released a boatload of singles thanks to her popularity on the "Hit Parade" - her biggest being "Hard To Get" in 1955. She also recorded albums in both English and French to release in the US and Canada on their Vik label.

1957 was a pivotal year for MacKenzie. The popularity of rock and roll caused the ratings on "Your Hit Parade" to tumble - a smooth big band singer named Snooky Lawson was forced to sing Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" several weeks in a row (oh to see THAT video!). NBC moved Gisele off the "Hit Parade" onto her own variety show ("The Gisele MacKenzie Show") which started production in the fall of 1957.

She also recorded several Christmas tracks for the first time. A 45 single of "Too Fat For The Chimney" / "Jingle Bells" was released by Vik in the US for the 1957 Christmas season (a full Christmas album - "Christmas With Gisele" - wouldn't be released until 1959 in the US) while our neighbors to the north got a four song EP - the very one pictured above.

The first song is recorded entirely en Français and is a three song medley of "Dans Cette Étable" / "Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes" (Angels We Have Heard On High) / "La Marche Des Rois". A fun version of "Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers" (both in English en Français) is song number two.

Side two brings us a beautiful rendition of "White Christmas" (in two languages again), and finally the standout track of the EP - "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer". Gisele begins the song in English, sings one full chorus, and then is asked by the choir boys "How do the children of Paris sing this reindeer melody?". This leads to an impromptu French lesson as MacKenzie teaches us the French words for "Rudolph", "reindeer", "nose", and "red"! A very fun song mon shere!

This EP makes me want the whole album now... I'm guessing it might be out there later this year!

Gisele continued to record albums, appear on television and summer stock through the late 1950s and early 1960s. Her love of acting slowly took over and she became a full-time actress in musical theater, movies, voice-overs, and television up until the late 1990s when she retired from show business. We lost Gisele in 2003.

Ernie (not Bert) offered this EP at his blog on Christmas Eve last year. Thanks for the share and for introducing me to Madame MacKenzie!

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


P.S. - Jim Stewart (who Gisele referred to as "her #1 fan") has posted some additional info in the comments section that pinpoints certain dates, times, and events that I bungled. We regret the errors and thank Jim for the clarifications!


Ernie said...

Yeah! I finally got a good rip from my Christmas With Gisele LP! Now you all have something to look forward to at Christmas time. I think that was the number one request last year, but I was never able to get my record to play without skipping.

CaptainOT said...

I bet people on both side of the 49th parallel will be standing in line (or queue as the Canadians prefer) to download that one!

Thanks again Ernie!


phil said...

I grew up listening to this album - it was my parents favorite.

I can't tell you how long I've been looking for it electronically. I really love seeing that there are others who enjoy it.

CaptainOT said...

Phil - Thanks for the kind words but my man Ernie deserves the credit - he found it and shared it out. I merely reviewed it!


Jim Stewart said...

To correct some of the information above that isn't quite right. "Christmas with Gisele" was released on LP in the US and Canada in 1957 on ViK label. It was also released in both countries on 3 extended play 45RPM albums, the one shown here (Joyeux Noel), "Merry Christmas" (EXA-270) and "Season's Greetings" (EXA-269). The LP version of "Christmas with Gisele" was re-released on RCA Victor label in 1959.
Gisele arrived in the US in 1951 to star on radio's "Club 15" and "Mario Lanza's Coke Time." "Your Hit Parade" became a TV fixture in 1950, and Gisele didn't join the cast until 1953, when she replace June Valli. Gisele got the spot on "Your Hit Parade" thanks to her friend, Jack Benny, turning his TV show into a TV audition for Gisele. Jack's Show and "Your Hit Parade" were both sponsored by Lucky Strike. Gisele continued to perform for the rest of her life and did not retire in the late 1990's. Her last official appearance was shortly before her death at a tribute to Mr. Benny. In her later years she performed in package shows that also featured stars like The Mills Brothers, Don Cornell, Connee Haines, etc.
take care, Jim Stewart.
PS: Gisele labeled me her #1 Fan, and we were good friends! She was about the most angelic person I've ever met.
By the way you can hear a wonderful duet by Gisele and her daughter Gigi MacKenzie on Gigi's new CD "Skylark" on Morpheus label.

Anonymous said...

i grew up listening to gisele, my father loved her voice! her christmas songs "too fat for the chimney" and "rudolph, the red nose reindeer"- sung in french and english delighted us as children and gave us many happy memories as my dad wore out that record, playing it over and over as we sang along. how do i get a cd?

Anonymous said...

Where can we buy CD's with "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" ?

CaptainOT said...

Jim Stewart - WOW! Thanks for the corrections and the flood of info on Gisele! No wonder she called you "number one fan"!

Anon 12/21/2007 & 11/02/08 - That's a tough one... it might be on a Christmas compilation somewhere but I cannot seem to find it.

Try asking over at - they usually can have an answer for you in a matter of hours.


Anonymous said...

For those still looking I was able to download the entire album Christmas with Gisele at
It brings back great childhood memories. I only wish it would be, if it could be, redone as cd format.

Gary Graves said...

OMG - I've been searching for these songs. THANKS for this post.. I only remember a few words of the rudolph song. This is the christmas songs I remember as a child driving back and forth from Granny's house.