White Christmas: selected vocal harmony group recordings, 1948-1965

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White Christmas (Irving Berlin) – published in 1940

Ravens 3-d40

The Ravens — recorded in Chicago, IL, December 1948 — released as the B-side of Silent Night (National 9062)

Maithe Marshall (lead tenor vo) Leonard Puzey (2nd tenor vo) Richard Cannon (baritone vo) Jimmy Ricks (bass vo) Howard Biggs (piano, arranger), with unknown small combo

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The Golden Gate Quartet, featuring Eugene Mumford — 1953

The 45 rpm discography for Apollo Records at globaldogproductions.info dates the single (Apollo 1204) with Silent Night as the B-side, 1953. It’s the final catalog number in their list of the Apollo 1000 series.* The recording features a very ambitious arrangement. A couple of voices appear to come in too early on the word “dreaming” in the initial line of the first section of the chorus.

Mumford joined the group in 1952, says Wikipedia, leaving to return to secular music in 1953. When the Quartet revived their career in 1955, touring Europe for the first time and becoming widely popular, Clyde Wright had replaced Eugene Mumford. Wright remained with the group until 1971.

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1954 White Christmas, Drifters, Atlantic 45-10481954 White Christmas, Drifters, Atlantic 45-1048 (2)

The Drifters — Atlantic Records single 45-1048, b/w The Bells of St. Mary (Furber, Adams), issued in November 1954. The chart data provided by Music VF suggests that the original release peaked at #5 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1955, and failed to enter the pop chart, but that upon reissue in December 1955 it did better: #2 R&B, #80 Hot 100. The recording features lead vocals by Bill Pinkney and Clyde McPhatter.

Marv Goldberg, in his page “The Drifters (The Early Years),” says,

The Drifters were back in the studio on February 4 [1954]**, to record another four songs: “Bells Of Saint Mary’s,” “White Christmas,” “Honey Love,” and a third version of “What’cha Gonna Do.” I have no idea why a Christmas tune was recorded in February. Possibly Atlantic envisioned an uphill battle with songwriter Irving Berlin for permission to release it. Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler were actually worried about how Berlin would react to it, so a dub was brought to him. To everyone’s surprise, Berlin was quite pleased with the recording. (And why not? He only stood to make more money off it.) Note that on “White Christmas,” Clyde shares the lead with Bill Pinkney, in an arrangement reminiscent of the one the Ravens had done for National back in 1948.

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The Statues — Liberty Records single 55292, b/w Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair, issued in 1960

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Simms and Robinson — issued in Jamaica in 1960 (according to 45cat.com) or 1961 (according to Discogs.com) on the Muzik City label, b/w “Searching” — later released in 1962 in the UK on Blue Blue Beat ‎45/BB 143, with the same B-side

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Nolan Strong & The Diablos — an obvious imitation of the 1954 recording by the Drifters; recording date unknown

According to the provider of the first video below, the recording appeared on the 1962 compilation album Fortune of Hits, Vol. 2, Fortune LP-8012. The recording of “White Christmas” by Nolan Strong & the Diablos released in 1974 on Pyramid 159, b/w “Danny Boy,” long after the group disbanded, is likely a reissue of the earlier recording.

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The Gatemen — issud in November 1962 as the B-side of “Silent Night” on Colpix CP 671

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Bob Marley & the Wailers, c.1965

Bob Marley & the Wailers — released c. December 1965

Marley is not reminiscing upon idyllic past Christmases. Rather, he dreams of a future Christmas which is “not like the ones I used to know.”

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* The provider of the video I’ve included here dates the disc 1975, but the label displayed in the video suggests that it’s a copy of the original 1953 recording, Apollo 1204, possibly reissued in 1975. The Apollo Records Story at bsnpubs.com indicates that Apollo continued to release 45s until sometime in 1959 when issues ceased for a period, resuming in late 1960, though “Many of the records issued during the 1960-1962 period were reissues of earlier records.”

In October or November 1960, The Golden Gate Quartet, now based in Paris, reportedly recorded a new version of White Christmas which also featured Mumford, as he had rejoined the group that year. From an article at Goldmine Magazine titled Harmony Lane: Mumford’s golden tenor voice belied his hard life, by Todd Baptista:

That fall [1960], he returned to the Paris-based Golden Gate Quartet, joining Wilson, Riddick and Franck Todd. He participated in seven sessions with them for Pathe Marconi, the French arm of EMI-Columbia in October and November, 1960.

Among the sides recorded were “White Christmas” and “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (issued on a bootleg Apollo single in the 1970s), the ethereal “Deep River” and “The World Outside (Warsaw Concerto).” The Gates’ recordings with Mumford were issued on numerous LPs, singles, and, later, CDs, in nearly every European country.

** On the recording date of the Drifter’s version: A page at the 1950s Groups Page (johnnyspencer.info) disagrees with the date given by Marv Goldberg, claiming instead that the session which produced the recordings of White Christmas, The Bells Of St. Mary, Honey Love and Whatcha Gonna Do took place in November 1953. My money’s on Unca Marvy. Incidentally, the “1950s Groups Page” is my source of the photograph of the disc with the pen and ink illustration on the brown paper sleeve.

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  1. Trackback: Vocal harmony group covers of standards « Songbook

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