Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
EVERY DAY FROM NOVEMBER 30-DECEMBER 24, I AM HIGHLIGHTING A CHRISTMAS SONG AND THE STORY BEHIND IT. PLEASE ENJOY AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!
The following is from the Kiwanis International website:
In 1934, J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie began warning children to be on their best behavior, lest their names be written on Santa Claus’ “naughty” list. Fred—the composer—wrote the music for more than 700 songs, including Precious Little Thing Called Love, Love Letters in the Sand, and the holiday classic Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. But he also was a New York City Kiwanian. His story, including memories of his fateful encounter with lyricist Gillespie, appeared in the December 1956 issue of The Kiwanis Magazine.
Following is an outtake of the article, relating Fred’s fateful encounter with lyricist Gillespie.
“One morning in June (1934), Coots was on the subway to Brooklyn when he saw a vaguely familiar face. ‘It was Lady Luck, but I didn’t know it then,’ he says. The man looked at Fred expectantly, then sauntered over and stuck out his hand.
“‘You’re Fred Coots, aren’t you?’
“‘Yeah, and you’re…’ Coots still couldn’t recall his name.
“‘Gillespie. Haven Gillespie. Lyric writer. From Covington, Kentucky.’
“‘That’s right,’ said Coots. He remembered that Gillespie had written the lyrics for several very popular songs. ‘What are you doing up here?’
“He was going over to Brooklyn to see an old friend, a composer who might be able to set some of his lyrics to music, explained Gillespie. He’d felt the pinch of the Depression and was in his old business, running a Linotype, to carry himself over. He tapped his pocket. ‘I’ve got an idea here for a Christmas song that might go over,’ he said.
“Like most song writers, Fred Coots thrives on the ideas and suggestions of lyric writers. He tingled with expectation at the thought of Gillespie’s lyrics, but he knew that the ethics of the trade demanded that he ignore them as long as they were committed to some other composer. ‘But I’m at the Albee in Brooklyn, Have,’ he said, ‘and if there’s anything I can do, just drop in and see me.’
“When he finished the matinee that afternoon, Coots found Gillespie waiting in the dressing room. ‘My friend’s gone to California,’ said Gillespie ruefully, ‘and it looks like I might be stuck with these lyrics.’ He handed them to Fred…
“‘Uh-hug,’ said Fred without enthusiasm. ‘You got a love song? A ballad?’
“Gillespie shook his head. All he really had was this little ditty—‘a kid song,’ says Coots. Fred sat down and pecked away speculatively at a piano backstage. In about 10 minutes, he had the skeleton of the tune knocked out. ‘I figured that I’d humor the guy,’ he says. ‘If I tried to do something with this kid song maybe he’d bring me his next ballad.’
“When he brought the song around to his publisher, Leo Feist Inc., Coots aroused no enthusiasm. ‘Nice tune, Fred,’ they said, ‘but it’s a kid song. Can’t really expect too much from it.’ They talked and haggled and finally the publisher agreed to put it out, with some doubts and reservations.
“Later that same summer, Coots offered the tune to Eddie Cantor, who decided to use it on his radio show in November. Suddenly the song shot from nowhere into the hearts and minds of an America that needed a lilt and a lift. ‘The morning after Eddie sang it on the radio, we had orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music,’ says Fred. By Christmas, sales had passed 400,000. ‘It picked Tin Pan Alley right off the floor and really gave it a merry Christmas,’ says Coots. Since then, the song has become one of the best-sellers in American music history. It’s sold millions of records and copies of sheet music—most of them in December. ‘You can see why I have a special affection for Christmas,’ says Fred.”
If I had to choose just one, my favorite Christmas album, it would most likely be, “ A Christmas Portrait,” by the Carpenters.
Richard Carpenter’s lush, old-fashioned arrangements backing the angelic voice of his sister, Karen, are a perfect Christmas combination. Karen did “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” like no one else.
From the Carpenters' web site:
In November 1974, Karen and Richard released a shimmering ballad version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” a holiday staple since 1934. Richard’s torchy arrangement was as unexpected as his 1969 ballad interpretation of the Beatles’ “Ticket To Ride.” Karen and Richard recorded the basic track and the lead vocal in 1972, and added brass, strings, the sax solo and background vocals two years later. They sang the song on a Perry Como Christmas special that aired on Dec. 18, 1974.
Here is that performance from the Perry Como special, featuring a jazzy, sultry vocal by Karen and a great sax solo.
And by the way...
Happy St. Nick's!
THE MUSIC OF CHRISTMAS: THE SERIES
1) The Music of Christmas: Jingle Bells
2) The Music of Christmas: "I am a fine musician"
3) The Music of Christmas: Mary's Boy Child
4) The Music of Christmas - Elvis Style
5) The Music of Christmas: Rudolph
6) The Music of Christmas: The Fat Man is watching