Songs of Christmas…The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)

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This is part 19 of an Advent/Christmas series titled “Songs of Christmas.” For other parts of the series see the index. The index also contains the introduction for the series.

When one hears the baritone crooning of the late Nat King Cole belting out “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Yuletide carols being sung by a choir and folks dressed up like Eskimos…” one thing you probably are not thinking about is a 90 plus degree July day. That is as it should be. Christmas carols shouldn’t remind us of summer. But in truth, as I have researched for this series, I continually find it is not an uncommon discovery to find some of our favorite Christmas songs were actually written during the summer.

“The Christmas Song” also commonly known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” is the “poster child” of Christmas songs written in July. In fact, those opening lines of the song were an effort of one man, trying to get inside his own head, in an effort to cool off on one of the hottest days in Los Angeles history. Such efforts were one of the few ways to beat the heat in 1945, long before most places had anything resembling air conditioning.

The late jazz musician, also known as “The Velvet Fog,” Mel Torme (also an accomplished song writer, actor, script writer and pilot) was to meet with fellow songwriter, the late Bob Wells, to work on the music for two upcoming movies. When Torme arrived he saw a spiral notebook laying on top of Wells’ piano. Scribbled on the exposed page of the note book were, “Chestnuts roasting…Jack Frost nipping…Yuletide carols…Folks dressed like Eskimos.”

When Torme saw the words he questioned Wells. Wells didn’t see them as song lyrics. He was just attempting to cool off from the brutal heat. It really didn’t work but what did work was what was going on in Torme’s mind. They pushed aside the music for the two movies and started working on both the lyrics and music for this new song. In forty minutes time the song was written.

Excited about what they had, they jumped in the car and drove to the home of Nat King Cole. Cole and Torme were good friends, and unannounced visits to the homes of his friends was not uncommon and even during the days of segregation, Torme never let a little thing like skin color bother him.

Upon entering Cole’s home, Torme went straight to Cole’s piano and played-sang the song. Cole was impressed and wanted the opportunity to record the song before anyone else did. Cole sensed a Christmas classic. He was right.

After the initial recording, Cole recorded the song a second time with a full orchestra within a matter of weeks. The second version was released in October of 1946. Ironically, the first recording was never released until 1989 when it was (accidentally) included on the various-artists compilation Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits (1935–1954). Cole went on to record the song again in 1953 and in 1961. It is the 1961 version we hear most often today.

Many others have recorded the song over the years. The unofficial count is, there have been at least 122 recordings (by top line musical performers) of “The Christmas Song” since it was written in 1945. From Andy Williams to Randy Travis to Hottie and Blow Fish to Big Bird and the Swedish Chef (of Muppet fame) and many more. I know I cannot forget the inspired version of the song the late Natalie Cole sang with her (even at that time) late father through some inspired technical magic. It is my favorite rendition of the song.

It all started by a guy just trying to figure out a way to cool off. Though not his intention, he inspired someone else. Together, in the heat of July they shared the song with an unlikely, but popular singer and together they created a Christmas classic. The song also helped clear the way for African-American performers to move into the mainstream of Christmas music.

Have you ever, unknowingly at least at the time, done something that inspired someone else? If so, what was it? Share your times in the comments below.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Sources

Collins, Ace, Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Collins, Andrew, Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Gant, Andrew, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Osbeck, Kenneth W. Joy to the World: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Christmas Carols, Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999.

The Christmas Song

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Christmas_Song

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Wells_(songwriter)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mel_Tormé

Published by drjkbroyles

I love Mike Ashcraft's book, "My One Word." For the past nine years I have participated and encouraged others to participate to in the "My One Word" Challenge. My first word was discipline was my word the first year. Since then my word has been focus, sight, jungle, peace, concentration, serve, genuine and this year is fit. I seek to be fit for my health, my family, my church, my ministries. I seek to be fit in any are of my life where God might point to me. I also have a nickname, "Dr. B." When I was a public high school teacher, Dr. B. is what most of my students called me, at least in my presence. I am still called that by many people though I no longer teach in public schools. I am the author of "Average Joe: With an Extraordinary Story" (available on Amazon). The book fits into the genre of "Biblical Fiction" or "Christian Fiction" and features some of the Bible's lesser known characters. The name of my blog is, "Fork in the Road." Life is filled with forks in the road. It isn't a matter of if we encounter a fork in the road, but when will we and how many will we experience in a lifetime. I love to strum my guitar. I am not a great guitar player but I enjoy it. I also enjoy writing music. I get excited with I feel a new song emerging. I live with my wife Cindy and our little dog, "Bishop" in Lufkin, Texas. I spent the past 30 years as a United Methodist pastor, serving churches all over east and southeast Texas, from just north of Tyler to south of Houston, from the Gulf Coast to east of Madisonville. I currently serve Perritte Memorial UMC in Nacogdoches. I spent one year in the classroom, teaching High School government, economics, psychology, and sociology. Cindy and I have been married for 43 years. We have two grown sons and six grandchildren, three boys and three girls. I enjoy preaching and all it's aspects from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading. I have dabble in drawing and "painting" with pastels as well as woodworking and woodcarving. My current projects are two ukuleles. I collect, repair and restore guitars too. I play the guitar (badly, but I still do) I also enjoy working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, TX, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. This blog started out as devotional writings. In August of 2020, I made a major change to the blog, switching to a daily theme format. Sunday Sermon-usually my manuscript sermon Miscellaneous Monday-misc. writing, poetry, ministry Tuesday Thoughts-Devotion Wed. with Wesleys-hist. & theol. of early Methodists TED Talk Thursday-Video & appl. in current theology Five for Friday-5 things I've seen & my thoughts Sing-Along Sat. - Usually a new song I have written I write, "Strumming a G-Chord with Dr.B." to get my thoughts onto something permanent. After all, they say, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. Seeking the Genuine, Keith Lufkin, Texas August 2020

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