Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Mary Mayo - The Magic of Christmas

I found this album at Musicstack listed for $85 - a dealer was offering the LP and a CD transfer. The cover artwork grabbed my attention but eighty-five bucks? Luckily, this copy from eBay didn't cost as much.

Mary Mayo first got started as a radio singer in North Carolina just after the end of World War II. Gifted with a four-octave range, she was spotted by Tex Beneke, who was leading the post-war version of the Glenn Miller Orchestra. While singing with Beneke, she married Al Ham, an arranger and bass player in the band.

With the birth of their daughter Lois-Marie (the little girl on the cover), the couple settled in New York. Ham joined Columbia Records and became a producer while Mayo recorded dozens of albums as a faceless singer on "original cast" albums of numerous Broadway musicals.

She released a couple of singles for Columbia in the 1950s, but none even came close to the charts. LeRoy Holmes was the house arranger and conductor for MGM Records in the 1950s and decided to give Mayo her big break with this album in 1956.

With twelve original songs written by Fay Tishman (words) and Marjorie Goetschius (music), Mayo does a fine job singing these reverent haunting melodies on this album. LeRoy Holmes does another typical brilliant job with the orchestra.

I've listened to this several times now and it gets better with repeated listens:

Mary Mayo - The Magic of Christmas

Mayo kept busy within the recording industry - appearing on Dick Hyman's legendary 1963 "Moon Gas" album where she sang on every single track with wordless vocals. She also made a huge splash at the end of the 1960s when she appeared at Duke Ellington's legendary 1969 jazz concert at the White House for President Nixon.

In 1971, ad agency McCann Erickson wanted The New Seekers to record a new song for their client but the group was booked elsewhere. So they called Ham who assembled a group of singers (including Mayo and daughter Lori) and called themselves The Hillside Singers. The song they recorded was Coca-Cola's "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" and it was an immediate smash.

Mayo had several follow up albums with the Hillside Singers and continued to work in the music industry right until her death in 1985.



PDMan said...

Al Ham - wasn't he the guy that developed the "Music of Your Life" radio format?

CaptainOT said...

PDMan - Yes, he was - started it in 1978 and built it up into a respectable radio business.

Respectable radio = oxymoron?


jeremiad said...

This is an absolutely lovely album, even if somewhat melancholy; the songs match her voice well. I wonder why we have never heard any of these songs covered elsewhere? Some of them are of a quality that they could be Christmas standards, in my opinion. Thanks for a great post!