Monday, December 24, 2018

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas: A Film About the Jewish Composers of Christmas Songs


As we are surrounded today by Christmas songs playing on the radio and TV, and with the music finding its way into elevators, supermarkets, and shopping malls, it's interesting to note that most of the popular songs were written by Jewish songwriters.

Approximately half of the 30 best-selling Christmas songs by ASCAP members in 2015 were written by Jewish composers. Johnny Marks has three top Christmas songs, the most for any writer—"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", and "A Holly Jolly Christmas". By far the most recorded Christmas song is "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin (born Israel Isidore Beilin in Russia)—who also wrote "Happy Holiday"—with well over 500 versions in dozens of languages.
Others include:
  • "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" by Sammy Cahn (born Cohen) and Jule Styne (who also wrote "The Christmas Waltz" together)
  • "Winter Wonderland" (composer Felix Bernard was born Felix William Bernhardt)
  • "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" by Robert Wells (born Levinson) and Mel Tormé
  • "Sleigh Ride" (lyricist Mitchell Parish was born Michael Hyman Pashelinsky in Lithuania)
  • "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" (composer George Wyle was born Bernard Weissman)
  • "Silver Bells" by Jay Livingston (born Jacob Levinson) and Ray Evans
  • "(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays" by Bob Allen (born Robert Allen Deitcher) and Al Stillman (born Albert Silverman)
  • "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Walter Kent (born Walter Kauffman) and Buck Ram (born Samuel).
  • "Santa Baby" by Joan Ellen Javits (Zeeman), niece of Senator Jacob Javits, and Philip Springer.
  • "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Frank Loesser
An offbeat, irreverent documentary called Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas tells the story of a group of Jewish songwriters, including Irving Berlin, Mel Tormé, Jay Livingston, Ray Evans, Gloria Shayne Baker and Johnny Marks, who wrote the soundtrack to the world's most musical holiday. It's an amazing look at the 20th century North American immigrant experience and the extraordinary outburst of musical energy from the children of those immigrants. 

This new generation rejected their parents' European past and instead embraced Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and, finally, Hollywood. The outsiders began writing the soundtrack to the insiders' American dreams and in doing so, wrote themselves into history. 

Telling this story through words and song, Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas features rarely-seen archival footage, musical performances and interviews with contemporary writers and performers, as well as connoisseurs of North American popular music.

The 52 minute documentary is available on iTunes for $2.95. You can see it free of charge if you are a member of a public library that offers free streaming of Kanopy films. 

Enjoy!

A SPECIAL NOTE FOR NEW EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS:  THE VIDEO MAY NOT BE VIEWABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE EMAIL THAT YOU GET EACH DAY ON SOME COMPUTERS AND TABLETS.  YOU MUST CLICK ON THE TITLE AT THE TOP OF THE EMAIL TO REACH THE JEWISH HUMOR CENTRAL WEBSITE, FROM WHICH YOU CLICK ON THE PLAY BUTTON IN THE VIDEO IMAGE TO START THE VIDEO.