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A glance back to 1950s Sammy Kaye's "Swing and Sway" Christmas serenade

Bob Cox • Dec 2, 2018 at 12:00 PM

The imperishable joys of Christmas are most exultantly contained in its music.

Whether it is the gentle lovely carol or the infectious novelty song, the music of Christmas has its own special aura, a warm genial glow that mirrors the Christmas Tree, giving, festive wrappings, decorating and the deep underlying Biblical significance of the season.

It was this music that Sammy Kaye presented in a 1950 10-inch Columbia Records non-breakable vinyl, 33.3 LP long-play disc that still resides in my collection. The album title is "Sammy Kaye Christmas Serenade." This charming serenade offers a friendly Christmas garland of perennial favorites.

“Sammy Kaye's Sunday Serenades” had long been a fixture of broadcast bands. It was a relaxing, tuneful mixture of music and poetry. Each Sunday Serenade was carefully planned, spotlighting each of the members of his gifted organization.

Kaye read poetry over the air that was sent in to his show by amateurs and later several books of poetry from the show were published. Songs and poems intertwined for a relaxing bit of entertainment and reflection.

The Christmas Serenade was no exception, save that there was no poetry presented. Dedicated to the Christmas season, it followed closely one of Kaye's most famous programs, broadcasting in 1950 to the Armed Forces.

Fittingly, the Christmas Serenade opened with a group of carols such as “Silent Night, Holy Night” and “Little Town of Bethlehem,” both sung by the Kaye Choir.

Next on the program was a popular song that had almost attained the status of a carol, the traditional “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin and sung by crooner Bing Crosby.

Possibly the most successful song of our time, this charming ballad was sung by Tony Russo with the Kaye Choir. The lilting “Winter Wonderland” followed, with a vocal by the Kaydets, and Sammy continued the Serenade with the most recent holiday novelty, the jaunty “Frosty The Snowman,” delightfully sung by Don Rogers and the three Kaydets.

Santa Claus was represented twice in his Serenade. First, Sammy presents “Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town,” a favorite since 1934, sung by the Kaydets, who were again heard in “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” one of the catchiest of the new Christmas songs. Singing cowboy Gene Autry also made a notable hit of this song.

Then the entire group joined in with one of the oldest and liveliest of the secular Christmas tunes, “Jingle Bells.” The Kaydets, Barbara Benson, Don Rogers and the Kaye Choir provided a vocal chorus. Three more superb carols formed the closing portion of the Serenade, with the Kaye Choir singing “Joy to The World,” “Hark! the Harold Angels Sing and the triumphant O Come All Ye Faithful.”

"Swing and Sway," the trademark of Kaye's immensely popular music, had been before the public for over a decade, and since its inception, the idea of providing smooth, danceable music that was pleasant to hear had been Sammy Kaye's goal.

From his earliest days with a college orchestra, the band leader had kept his music simple and tuneful, giving all his audiences a generous helping of that indispensable element, showmanship.

For dancers, Kaye kept his tempos strict and well-marked. For radio and record listeners, he developed the Sunday Serenades and the endearingly sentimental arrangements that were so immediately identifiable as his. And for his theater audiences, Sammy introduced "So You Want To Lead A Band," one of the earliest and most successful audience-participation ideas.

All of this made the Kaye band fame and success. Year after year, his orchestra was at the top in any poll of listeners or dancers. In this album, Kaye presented one of his finest accomplishments, a warm-hearted and sentimental collection of Christmas music, Sammy Kaye's Christmas Serenade.

Those were the days. Where did the music go?

Reach Bob Cox at [email protected] or go to www.bcyesteryear.com.

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