Perhaps the most surprising thing about Bob Dylan’s Christmas album is that it took nearly fifty years for him to make one. There is a long-established tradition of pop artists recording Christmas music, after all. Artists in all genres, from classic pop crooners such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Mel Tormé to white-bread entertainers such as Connie Francis, Dinah Shore, Bobby Darin, Dean Martin, Perry Como, and Andy Williams, to early rock n’ rollers such as Elvis Presley and the Beatles, to country singers such as Gene Autry, Merle Haggard, and Eddy Arnold, to soul/R&B artists such as Charles Brown and Luther Vandross, to hard-rockers such as Foghat, Slade, and the White Stripes, to classical vocalists such as Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarottti, to punk-rock artists such as the Kinks and the Ramones, to hip-hop artists Run-DMC, Raekwon, and Kurtis Blow — all have recorded Christmas songs or Christmas albums.
And not just a few of these songs happen to have been written or recorded by Jewish artists. In fact, the bestselling song of all time is a Christmas song written by a Jew. I speak, of course, of “White Christmas,” written by the son and grandson of cantors, Irving Berlin, born Israel Baline in eastern Belarus, the man also responsible for that springtime favorite, “Easter Parade.”
While Irving Berlin holds the title as author of the bestselling song (and Christmas song) of all time, another Jewish musician, saxophonist Kenny G — born Kenneth Bruce Gorelick — is the all-time Christmas-album champion, with not one but two albums in the all-time Top 10, including the number-one bestselling Christmas album of all time, Miracles. (Kenny G has recorded five “holiday” albums in sum, and to his credit, a few of these have included token Hanukkah songs.)
Other Jewish stars of the “holiday” music genre include Barry Manilow, Herb Alpert, Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Neil Diamond, and Mel Tormé. Tormé is both writer and originator of one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time, titled, aptly enough, “The Christmas Song,” but perhaps best known for its opening phrase, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” (Dylan includes a rendition of this song on his album.)
Other Jewish songwriters who hit paydirt catering to the seasonal music market included Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, whose efforts include “Let It Snow,” and Johnny Marks, who made something of a specialty of writing Christmas songs, including “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” and that novelty classic, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
There is perhaps nothing more American, nothing more traditional, and, perhaps, nothing more traditional for a Jewish-American musician, than recording Christmas music.
Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album (Part 1)
Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album: The Jewish Contribution to the ‘Holiday’ Genre (Part 2)
The Meaning of Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album: The Music (Part 3)
Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album: What Good Is It? (Part 4)