Perhaps the most surprising thing about Bob Dylanâ€™s Christmas album is that it took nearly fifty years for him to make one. There is a long-established tradition of pop artists recording Christmas music, after all. Artists in all genres, from classic pop crooners such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Mel TormÃ© to white-bread entertainers such as Connie Francis, Dinah Shore, Bobby Darin, Dean Martin, Perry Como, and Andy Williams, to early rock nâ€™ rollers such as Elvis Presley and the Beatles, to country singers such as Gene Autry, Merle Haggard, and Eddy Arnold, to soul/R&B artists such as Charles Brown and Luther Vandross, to hard-rockers such as Foghat, Slade, and the White Stripes, to classical vocalists such as Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarottti, to punk-rock artists such as the Kinks and the Ramones, to hip-hop artists Run-DMC, Raekwon, and Kurtis Blow — all have recorded Christmas songs or Christmas albums.
And not just a few of these songs happen to have been written or recorded by Jewish artists. In fact, the bestselling song of all time is a Christmas song written by a Jew. I speak, of course, of “White Christmas,” written by the son and grandson of cantors, Irving Berlin, born Israel Baline in eastern Belarus, the man also responsible for that springtime favorite, â€œEaster Parade.â€
While Irving Berlin holds the title as author of the bestselling song (and Christmas song) of all time, another Jewish musician, saxophonist Kenny G — born Kenneth Bruce Gorelick — is the all-time Christmas-album champion, with not one but two albums in the all-time Top 10, including the number-one bestselling Christmas album of all time, Miracles. (Kenny G has recorded five â€œholidayâ€ albums in sum, and to his credit, a few of these have included token Hanukkah songs.)
Other Jewish stars of the â€œholidayâ€ music genre include Barry Manilow, Herb Alpert, Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Neil Diamond, and Mel TormÃ©. TormÃ© is both writer and originator of one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time, titled, aptly enough, â€œThe Christmas Song,â€ but perhaps best known for its opening phrase, â€œChestnuts roasting on an open fire…â€ (Dylan includes a rendition of this song on his album.)
Other Jewish songwriters who hit paydirt catering to the seasonal music market included Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, whose efforts include â€œLet It Snow,â€ and Johnny Marks, who made something of a specialty of writing Christmas songs, including â€œRockinâ€™ Around the Christmas Tree,â€ â€œA Holly Jolly Christmas,â€ and that novelty classic, â€œRudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.â€
There is perhaps nothing more American, nothing more traditional, and, perhaps, nothing more traditional for a Jewish-American musician, than recording Christmas music.