Sunday, 23 December 2012

A Christmas Sing with Bing

Christmas has a smell. For some, it may be mince pies or a turkey roasting in the oven; for others, pine or holly. For me, Christmas smells of vinyl.

My parents had a small collection of Bing Crosby Christmas albums from the 1950s and early 1960s. There was a lot of crossover content between them and invariably the holly-trimmed sleeves would feature a picture of Bing himself in a Santa hat. I usually played these 33½ rpm records (mums and dads, please explain the idea of a 'record' and 'record player' to your offspring) early in the run-up to Christmas, driving up my child-like Christmas excitement and driving down my parents' tolerance levels. These records, or at least the vinyl from which they were made, had a smell that I will always associate with Christmas.

Which brings me to the public diplomacy angle of this blog.

One of the records, which I rediscovered today in my mum's wardrobe, was called A Christmas Sing with Bing Around the World. This is a recording of a show ('originally sponsored by The Insurance Company of North America Companies') Bing Crosby broadcast live on Christmas Eve 1955 on CBS Radio and which was transmitted all around the world by the Voice of America. The sleeve notes tell us:

Almost everybody in the world was able to hear that Christmas Eve broadcast, first presented on December 24th at 9.00 pm Eastern Standard Time, with Bing, the Paul Weston Orchestra, the Norman Luboff Choir Group, and many of the famed choirs of the United States and foreign countries.  

What makes this such a special recording is that Bing speaks as well as sings - it is a radio programme, after all - talking about the joys of Christmas and handing over to correspondents in other parts of the world who describe Christmas Eve wherever they are (England, Holland, Canada, France, the Vatican, Salt Lake City and Hollywood). Moreover, there is a letter written and read (in southern drawl) by eleven years old Delores Short of the Dessie Scott Children's Home, Pine Ridge, Kentucky on the theme 'What Christmas Means to Me.'

I am not going to offer any substantive or critical public diplomacy analysis. It's now the holiday season and I want to turn off my computer and turn my attention to Die Hard on TV. But I just wanted to share this (re)discovery with you, and consider how teaming the Voice of America and Bing Crosby must have signalled to audiences around the world a particular (American) style or brand of Christmas. It is also personally interesting because listening to this record every year in the 1970s and early 1980s I had no idea that I would become such an avid listener of the Voice of America, visit its headquarters in Washington DC, and write a PhD and book about this remarkable radio station.

I would be interested to know from my historian readers if they have come across any information about this annual broadcast during their research. In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a peaceful 2013.

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