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Christmas songs always brighten the season, and whether through one song or an entire album, these Arkansas singers make December a little merrier. Find a new favorite here or enjoy an old one again and learn about how Arkansas’s talented musicians have brought Christmas music to life over the last century.
Gustavo “Tav” Falco grew up in southwest Arkansas between Whelen Springs and Gurdon. He graduated from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and began a career in music and filmmaking that has spanned decades. Falco moved to Vienna and used tango and cabaret as inspiration for some of his music. His Christmas album, “A Tav Falco Christmas” was released in 2017 and combines those sounds with more traditional rock and roll for a different Christmas album.
Big John Greer, born John Marshall Greer, grew up in Hot Springs in 1923. He was friends with fellow Hot Springs musician Henry Glover, and after the two attended Alabama A&M together, Glover invited Greer to play in his band. Greer was a saxophonist and a vocalist who recorded several songs, including the 1954 Christmas hit, “We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo.” The hit was originally released on Greer’s album, “Wait Til After Christmas”. Although tracking down the album today might be a challenge, you can listen to Greer’s hit at Internet Archive and see why the song caught on with Greer’s bluesy style and cheer.
Although the lyrics of this song have become somewhat controversial in the last decade, the song was originally released in 1949 and has been recorded over 400 times. In 1949 alone, eight different recordings were released. One of those featured a duet between Ella Fitzgerald and Arkansas-born saxophonist, singer and bandleader Louis Jordan. This song hit #6 on the R&B chart and #9 on the Pop chart that year. You’ve likely heard Fitzgerald and Jordan’s version, but you can hear it again on secondhandsongs.com.
The Pointer Sisters released this song on the 1987 Christmas album “A Very Special Christmas” which featured a compilation of famous artists to benefit the Special Olympics. The Pointer Sisters have a connection to Arkansas through their parents, who were both from the state. Although the sisters grew up in California, they often returned to Prescott, Arkansas to visit their grandparents. Sisters Bonnie, June, Ruth and Anita all performed with the group. You can still purchase “A Very Special Christmas” as an album and hear the sisters belt out this classic Christmas song.
Silent Night has been a Christmas favorite since 1818. Bing Crosby made it famous with his version in 1935, but many have recorded their own versions. Arkansas singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe recorded her memorable gospel and rock-n-roll version in 1949. Tharpe was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, but she spent much of her childhood performing with her mother in a traveling evangelist troupe. She eventually settled in Chicago and went on to pioneer a career as the “Godmother of rock and roll”, combining gospel-style music with her cutting-edge guitar skills. You can listen to her recording of “Silent Night” on YouTube.
Arkansas musician Zach Williams’ first Christmas album comes years after his success as a southern rock artist and now a solo southern rock singer. He is from Jonesboro and has won two Grammys and three GMA Dove Awards. His latest album features 10 hits and Williams is currently on an 11 city Christmas tour, with stops planned in Arkansas in El Dorado, Jonesboro and Russellville. Find out tour dates and more about the album at zachwilliamsmusic.com.
Glen Campbell is one of the most famous singers and songwriters to come out of Arkansas. Born in Billstown, Arkansas, Campbell won numerous awards throughout his career, including Male Vocalist of the Year and multiple Grammys. He is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1968, he released his first Christmas album, “That Christmas Feeling.” Though relatively early in his career, it was already his 11th album. In 1998, Campbell released “A Glen Campbell Christmas” as his 56th album. You can still listen to all of Campbell’s Christmas hits and enjoy his smooth voice as he croons each carol.
Despite his outlaw reputation, Johnny Cash recorded several Christmas albums throughout his career. Originally from Kingsland, Arkansas, he grew up in Dyess, where the Johnny Cash Historic Boyhood Home is preserved at Dyess Colony. Cash released “The Christmas Spirit” in 1963, followed by “The Johnny Cash Family Christmas” in 1972. These albums featured a mix of traditional songs and originals with some narrations as well. The third Christmas album, “Classic Christmas” from 1980 featured traditional Christmas music. He released a fourth album, “Country Christmas,” in 1991. Cash seemed to enjoy recording Christmas songs and his unique voice lives on in these tunes.
Conway Twitty, a rock and roll turned country music star, released two Christmas albums in his career. Twitty was born Harold Lloyd Jenkins and grew up in Helena, Arkansas. He began singing in 1956, changing his name to Conway Twitty in 1957. His first Christmas album was recorded for kids in 1983. “Merry Twismas from Conway Twitty and His Little Friends” featured whimsical Christmas songs for kids. His next album was another kids’ Christmas album, “A Twistmas Story: Conway Twitty with Twitty Bird and Their Little Friends.”
Lee Jackson was born Warren George Harding Lee in Lee County, Arkansas. He grew up surrounded by blues musicians who stopped in at his aunt and uncle’s roadside cafe. Jackson eventually made it to Chicago, where he was a blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. In 1967, he released “Christmas Song.” Jackson was a mainstay on the blues scene for three decades. His classic blues “Christmas Song” can be found on YouTube.
Arkansas-born and raised country music star Justin Moore released this Christmas song in 2012. Moore grew up in Poyen, Arkansas and joined his uncle’s southern rock band in Nashville after high school. He has released six albums, including 2021’s “Straight Outta the Country.” You can find Moore’s version of “Run Rudolph Run” and a duet of him singing “Christmastime in Arkansas Again” with fellow Arkansas musician Jason Campbell on YouTube.
This final Arkansas favorite is by musician and Arkansan Ned Perme, who was a meteorologist in Little Rock for 34 years. Another Arkansas musician, Terry Rose, sings this Arkansas classic while Perme accompanies on piano. Find the tune on soundcloud.com and enjoy the holiday season in Arkansas this year.
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