Friday, December 9, 2016

Let It Snow!, Part 5

Tonight's posting is coming to you from Houston, Texas, where it already feels like Christmas — or at least the North Pole. I mean, it's COLD down here tonight, with temperatures around 30 degrees and a cold, moist wind that cuts to the bone. It's a good night for staying indoors and catching up on stuff. Time to continue with our look at some of the tracks on Let It Snow!, my latest holiday mix for December 2016:

Track 16
A Swingin' Little Christmas Time, by Jane Lynch (2016)
Tim Davis, Jane Lynch and Kate Flannery
I first became aware of Jane Lynch the same way an awful lot of others did, I'm guessing — from her role as Christy Cummings, the uptight lesbian dog trainer in Christopher Guest's wonderfully funny 2000 feature Best in Show. Since that gig, Lynch has been working pretty steadily in both film and television. In 2009 she was cast as Sue Sylvester in the hit TV series, Glee, for which she earned an Emmy in 2010 as best supporting actress.

What I didn't know until recently, however, is that Lynch is also a singer — and a damned good one, too. Several weeks ago, she released her first holiday album, "A Swingin' Little Christmas," which, of course, is where you'll find the tune "A Swingin' Little Christmas Time." Accompanying Lynch on the album is the Tony Guerrero Quintet; Tim Davis, the vocal producer from Glee; and Kate Flannery, best known for playing Meredith, everyone's favorite inebriate on NBC's "The Office." How did this project get going? According to Lynch,
we’ve been touring with the Tony Guerrero Quintet doing a show called “See Jane Sing.” We’ve been this kind of traveling group for the last year and a half or so. Around April, we said, “Why don’t we do a Christmas album?” We were going to do it on our own nickel, so we looked to see which songs are free and in the public domain. There’s some beautiful classic stuff, so we picked 10 of those and Tony wrote five (new songs), and you have our album!
The album has a little of everything — fun and frolicking in places, sentimental and wondrous in others. In short, it's just the ticket to put you in a holiday mood. And if you want an even surer mood elevator and plan to be in the Los Angeles area next Wednesday, December 21, Lynch and her fellow travelers will be performing in the wonderful performance space at Largo at the Coronet. Now, that looks to be a fun evening! Hope to see you there.

Search for Tickets for Jane Lynch's A Swingin' Little Christmas! CD Release Show

Mabel Scott

Track 15
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus, by Mabel Scott (1948)
This next track is a genuine Christmas classic, written by Leon René and first recorded for Supreme Records by Mabel Scott, a respected gospel singer whose transition to popular club act began in the mid-1930s. Scott's version of the tune was a notable hit in 1948, reaching the Top 15 of what was known at the time as Billboard Magazine's "Race Chart." In 1950, Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra recorded and released their version of the song. Patti Page created her own version several years later to very little attention, but the "B" side of the single, "Tennessee Waltz" became a smash hit. In 2002, the Brian Seltzer Orchestra recorded a rockabilly version for his album, "Boogie Woogie Christmas."

Track 14
Holiday Greetings from the Cast of Mama's Family (1986)
The Cast of Mama's Family Celebrate the Holidays 
This isn't so much a track as a little snippet of what passed as dialogue on the popular syndicated comedy "Mama's Family." The show started as a regular sketch on the wonderful Carol Burnett Show, and it featured Vicki Lawrence as the demanding and outspoken Thelma Harper, a/k/a Mama. NBC picked up the show as a January replacement series in 1983, but the network never found the right slot for the program, and it was canceled half-way through its second year of production. The network continued to air reruns during the summer of 1984, however, and it attracted enough viewers to continue in syndication for several years, where it did reasonably well.

Track 13
Kissin' by the Mistletoe, by Dora Hall (1964)
Solo Cozy Cups

I don't imagine many of you remember much about entertainer Dora Hall, am I right? In fact, I'll go a step further and guess that you've probably never heard of her at all. But her story is a uniquely American tale that has always fascinated me, for thanks to her husband's position as president of the Solo Cup Company, this sweet little grandmother hustled and clawed her way through that acid-tinged psychedelic haze of 1970s Hollywood to become the genuine Queen of the vanity recording industry.

Ms. Hall first started, er, ah . . . um "entertaining" people in the 1920s and '30s as a fledgling singer and/or dancer, but she was a woman of modest talents and she enjoyed little success. By the late 1930s, she'd been pretty much filed and forgotten, so that, it seemed was that. Shortly afterward, she met Leo J. Hulseman, the founder and president of the Solo Cup Company. The two fell in love, married and raised a family, and Mr. Husleman managed to build the Solo Cup Company into an economic powerhouse. Well, that may be a bit of an overstatement, but he sure did well for himself, and so, eventually, did his lovely bride. Once their children had left the nest, Mrs. Leo J. Husleman, who adopted the stage name Dora Hall, decided the time was right to make it big on the stage, screen and airwaves with the help of her husband's wealth and prominent business position.

The first step involved Dora's musical talent. She recorded a series of musical numbers that Solo began to give away with every purchase of Solo Cups. I remember my aunt used to buy Solo Cozy Cups when our families made our annual summer vacation trip to Casco Bay, Maine. Somewhere I still have the back of a package of cups on which Dora's rise to stardom was dutifully described. By the 1970s, the Huslemans had branched out into TV. The couple put together several TV specials featuring Dora and a series of second-rate entertainers such as impressionist Rich Little, singers Donovan and Frank Sinatra, Jr., and alleged comedian Phil Harris.

"Kissin' by the Mistletoe" is one of several Dora Hall holiday records. Several of her other contributions to our cultural history appear below. Amazing, right? And uniquely American, to be sure.

Check Out Some of Dora's Children's Records

Hear Dora's Version of "These Boots Are Made for Walking"

That's it for now. But I'll be back soon with still more nonsense. Christmas is a mere 16 days away, and we still have 24 songs to consider!

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