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Friday, December 16, 2011

Rodgers and Hammerstein at Christmas

Composer Richard Rodgers
pictured in the December 29, 1952
issue of Life
As December 25th approaches, you can’t help but hear Christmas music and wintery tunes in stores and on the radio.

Rodgers and Hammerstein, the musical partners who wrote Oklahoma!, have a tune that’s often heard these days – the classic “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.

While the song has no mention of Christmas or gift giving (other than mentioning brown paper packages), somehow this musical favorite has become acceptable as a holiday carol. Certainly the lyrics of warm woolen mittens, sleighbells, snowflakes and silvery white winters fit the season – but it’s not exactly a yuletide song. I suppose you could say that people are listing their “favorite things” that money can’t necessarily buy. However, for many years there have been traditional television broadcasts of the classic Julie Andrews movie during the Christmas and Easter seasons. I certainly remember it on a black and white screen in my grandparents’ basement while we of the younger set played a cutthroat game of Hi Ho! Cherry-O on the floor. Perhaps this song is just ingrained in our subconscious feel-good memories of the holidays?

I have learned this week that Rodgers and Hammerstein actually did write their very own Christmas carol. In the spring of 1952, Life magazine commissioned a yuletide song from the duo, published under the title “Happy Christmas, Little Friend” in the December 29th issue later that year.
From the article in Life
The article featured complete lyrics and music, as well as an article on the creation of the song. [Read the article here in a Google Book search.] In the same working style they used on projects like Oklahoma!, Hammerstein tackled the song first, writing a complete set of lyrics - in the middle of the summer, no less - before handing the words over to Rodgers to compose the music. Incidentally, the fee for writing the song inaugurated the Rodgers & Hammerstein Foundation which served to provide training for young musical theatre artists.
Rosemary Clooney sings "Happy Christmas, Little Friend" as shown in this picture from a follow-up article in Life.

The song was never incredibly popular, though it was recorded by Rosemary Clooney and became the official song for the National Tuberculosis Association’s Christmas Seal campaign. There doesn’t appear to be a single YouTube entry for the song, but you can hear brief audio samples on the Rodgers and Hammerstein website.

Check out this Rodgers & Hammerstein tune for your holiday listening…and get ready to tap your toes to the memorable Oklahoma! this summer.