Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Helen O'Connell - Christmas With

This was downloaded at the Members Share forum of FaLaLaLaLa on November 30, 2006 at 12:07 AM. Veteran FLLLL'er Inkydog posted this unique album there for all to share. Last Christmas, he posted this very same album at his own blog Cheerful Earful - go download and hurry back!

Some of you are asking yourself "Who's Helen O'Connell?" She was born in Lima, Ohio on May 23, 1920 and her family eventually moved to the metropolis known as Toledo to settle in. It was here that Helen began singing and was noticed by bandleader Jimmy Richards.

She went on the road with Richard's nine-piece orchestra and toured the country for 1 1/2 years. This exposure led to a radio show in St. Louis for a brief time until Larry Funk and his Band of A Thousand Melodies persuaded O'Connell to go with them to New York City in 1938.

While in New York, popular bandleader Jimmy Dorsey heard Helen sing in a nightclub and wanted her in his band. O'Connell said goodbye to Funk and signed on with Dorsey. This led to a string of successful hits for the Dorsey band including "All Of Me", "Embraceable You", and this little ditty:

In December, 1940, Dorsey decided to pair up ballad singer Bob Eberly with O'Connell and the combination clicked immediately. Their records took off, got huge jukebox airplay, and had hits such as "Amapola", "Tangerine", and "Green Eyes" which became their most popular song.

O'Connell won the 1940 Metronome magazine poll for best female vocalist and was selected by Down Beat readers as best female singer in 1940 and 1941. She went with Dorsey to Hollywood where they made several more records and motion pictures. Helen was featured in three movies ("The Fleet's In", "I Dood It", and "Sing, Helen, Sing") all between 1942 and 1943.

At the height of her popularity, Helen decided to get married in 1943 and retired from show business to settle down and have children. She rose three children but her marriage failed and she was divorced in 1951.

She soon jumped back into show business as a solo and began appearing in nightclubs, sang on the Capitol label between 1950-1955, and even appearing on the new medium of television. She made appearances on "The Colgate Comedy Hour" and was a featured performer on Russ Morgan's TV show of 1956.

Helen even awoke early for several years as the host of NBC's "The Today Show" from 1956 to 1958. In the middle of that run, she was given her own 15 minute summer show on NBC. Airing from May 29th to September 6th, 1957, the show was aired twice a week - Wednesdays and Fridays - in a time slot that followed the NBC network news program.

Around this time, Helen married novelist Tom T. Chamales and continued with her career appearing on TV anthology series like "The Bell Telephone Hour" but her marriage was on the rocks. She filed for divorce from Chamales in 1960 but the case never went to court. Chamales was the victim of an apartment fire and died in the blaze.

Throughout the 1960s, O'Connell toured with the reconstituted Jimmy Dorsey band, continued her appearances on television, and even made albums like the one you see here.

This album was on the Singcord label - a musical subsidiary of Zondervan Publishing House. Zondervan used to run the Singspiration label along with their own Zondervan label in the 1960s. However, many Internet sites claim that the Singcord label was run only in the 1970s.

So this album could very well be from that decade. Judging by the pictures of O'Connell and The Nashville Sounds Children's Choir on the back cover, it's likely it was from the 1970s. However, with no dates listed (and no complete O'Connell discography online for reference), there's no guarantee.


1.) Sleep Holy Child
Pretty version of a Singspiration published song. O'Connell's in fine voice.

2.) Silent Night
This version by Helen and the Nashville Sounds Children's Choir is unique thanks to its different arrangement of "Silent Night" and another song.

3.) Rock-A-Bye
A lullaby to baby Jesus... Not a Christmas song in the traditional sense but I can see why it's here...

4.) Away In A Manger
Another different arrangement (see #2 above). This one sound Elizabethian thanks to the harpsicord intro.

5.) The Little Drummer Boy
Straight forward version - very 1970s sounding. Not bad.

6.) No Room
A song about Joseph and Mary's hotel problems in Bethlehem. O'Connell sounds a lot like Vikki Carr and the song has a then-and-now James Bond feel to it - this is surprisingly good!

7.) What Child Is This?
Lovely version with a taste of Medieval thrown in for flair.

8.) Gentle Shepherd
Not really Christmas but the madigral flavor lingers...

9.) O Little Town Of Bethlehem
Touching version of this carol - an unknown adult choir adds its two cents - and Helen sings perfectly.

10.) Virgin Mary Had A Baby Boy
Take this venerable West Indian carol and add harpsicord, flutes, and guitars (sounds like King Arthur's court). It's puzzling but fun to listen to.

Overall, this is a good Christmas album - slightly heavy on the spiritual side, but it's worth a listen to. One can only imagine what Helen would have done with a full Christmas album (with carols and standards like "White Christmas") back in her heyday.

O'Connell remained very much in the public eye in the 1970s - she was the co-host of the "Miss Universe" pageant with Bob Barker from 1972 to 1980 and even toured with a revue entitled "Four Girls Four" with Rosemary Clooney, Kay Starr, and Rose Marie for a time.

She married Frank DeVol (yes, Happy Kyne from "Fernwood 2-Night") in 1989 and was actively performing until her death from liver cancer brought on by hepatitis C in 1993.

Thanks Inkydog for sharing this with us!



Ernie said...

You're like a font of Christmas information, Cap'n. However, you forgot to mention that Inkydog also shared this out over at his fine blog, Cheerful Earful.

I've got a couple of LPs from the Zondervan label queued up for sharing this holiday season. Nothing as interesting as this one, though.

CaptainOT said...

Ernie - Thanks for pointing out the oversight - corrected and linked in the post above!


Anonymous said...

Helen O'Connell only had one child by Tom Chamales - she had her first husband and one daughter by Tom Chamales.

CaptainOT said...

Anon - Thanks for passing that along - I've corrected the post to reflect this.


Anonymous said...

The info I found on the net indicates that this is a 1975 release.

BTW, Great info & review!!