Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Music of Christmas

Some of the Christmas albums from my youth

As I write, I’m listening to the “Instrumental Christmas” station on Amazon. Christmas music is one of my favorite aspects of the season–listening to it, singing it, you name it. I remember our house being filled with Christmas music, mostly from the radio. When I was young and my parents controlled the radio, this would likely be on WFMJ or WKBN. We not only heard Christmas music from Thanksgiving until Christmas, but on the twelve days of Christmas to Epiphany (there are some church traditions that think Christmas Day is when you start singing Christmas carols.)

We still have some of those old LP’s of Christmas music, I think all of them are from the 1960’s. Listening to them take me back. Ray Conniff, Percy Faith, Perry Como (we used to call him Perry Coma because his voice was so smooth and soothing!). Then there were compilations like the one in the upper left of my photo. I read the names and I remember the voices–Ed Ames, Harry Belafonte, Lana Cantrell, Vic Damone. Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride from the Boston Pops is one you still here and we have several recordings of the Boston Pops around the house. The ultimate compilation was the Time-Life Treasury of Christmas. I think this one went with my sister–all 44 songs!

I always thought of O Holy Night as one of the most challenging of Christmas songs on the sing, particularly because of all those high notes. It is kind of the national anthem of Christmas songs. In our youth, Mario Lanza, the opera singer performed one of the most often played versions. All the tenors like Placido Domingo and Lucianno Pavarotti have taken it on as well as many male and female artists. But I think Lanza is still classic as I remember my dad playing this on our dining room hi-fi set or his old Bakelite radio. But it’s OK if someone else is your favorite!

Mario Lanza

Then there were the songs that became Christmas hits in our youth: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sung by Burl Ives a part of the Rankin-Bass TV special that debuted in 1964. A few years later came Frosty the Snow Man with the title song sung by Jimmy Durante. The one we still listen to came from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the timeless jazz music of Vince Guaraldi. “Linus and Lucy,” “Skating,” and “Christmas Time is Here” are songs I still love, especially the latter with the children’s choir. The Little Drummer Boy was immortalized by the Harry Simeone Chorale. Here is a live performance on The Ed Sullivan Show from 1959. For all I know, I probably watched that when it was first aired.

There were live performances, from school Christmas programs to the Nutcracker performances at Powers Auditorium that I took my future wife to see. For several years in college, I sang in our church choir. A special thrill was singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and watch the whole congregation, honoring an old tradition, stand as we sang. It was equally thrilling when we would go to sing to elderly shut-ins or those in nursing facilities and to see the smiles or even the tears as we sang enthusiastically, if not always well, the favorites of Christmas. But the high point, at least in my church tradition was singing Silent Night during Candlelight services on Christmas eve. With dimmed lights we began singing Silent Night as we passed the candle flame from one person to the next until the sanctuary was aglow with the pinpoints of candlelight throughout the congregation. When we finished singing, and extinguished the candles, we were ready for Christmas to come!

What was the music and musical traditions of Christmas that you remember from growing up in Youngstown? I’d love to hear your memories!

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

2 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Music of Christmas

  1. We also had LPs of ethnic traditional christmas carols, both in Polish and Slovak. I did not understand the words, but the music itself communicated the joy or solemnity of the song. I could even sing along with a few of them simply because of hearing them so often. Why does it seem that those types of ethnic hymns seem so much more powerful when sung by the congregation? But yes, christmas music does make the season!

    Liked by 1 person

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