As I was saying,
We continue our investigation of famous Christmas song lyricists and composers who also happened to be born in the Jewish faith. We now turn our attention to a fellow who might have been more associated with Christmas songs than any other composer: Johnny Marks. Johnny Marks was born in Mount Vernon, NY. He studied music in college, even went to Paris.
Mr. Marks wrote a number of popular, and pop, Christmas songs. I’ll bet you have heard, and probably sung, at least one of them. You have if you’ve ever sung Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
The words were from a poem written by his brother-in-law Robert L. May, and Mr. Marks provided the music. The original idea for Rudolph was pitched by Mr. May, an advertising copy-writer for Montgomery Wards. “Monkey Wards” as it was sometimes called, was a huge catalogue sales company at the time. Every holiday season they gave away coloring books. Finally, in 1946 they decided to make their own rather than buy them from someone else and Bob May got the job. Several million were distributed, and Bob May was (due to the generosity of Montgomery Wards) allowed to retain the copyright. Bob and Johnny thought it would make a great song, and Johnny Marks set about making a melody.
Selling the song-
They had a bit of trouble trying to get anybody to sing it. Bing Crosby turned it down, as did Dinah Shore, the most popular male and female vocalists of the time. Finally Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, agreed. Good thing, too. It went on to become the biggest hit of Autry’s career with millions of sales every year. The only other holiday song to outsell it is, of course, White Christmas. Indeed, sales of that single recording made all three men very wealthy!
Mr. Holiday Music –
The success of that song convinced Johnny Marks to start his own publishing company for his songs. He named it Saint Nicholas Music. What sort of songs did he concentrate on, do you think? Hmmmm. Maybe…Christmas Songs? Right you are!
Johnny Marks went on to write some of the most memorable Christmas songs, at least for the Baby Boomer Generation. He set to a beautiful melody the poignant words of H.W. Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”; Brenda Lee had a huge and enduring hit with Marks’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”; and, of course, the songs he is best known for – the entire score for the 1964 animated special “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. Yep, that’s right, all those songs. Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, The Most Wonderful Day of the Year (Island of Misfit Toys), We Are Santa’s Elves, Silver and Gold, We’re a Couple of Misfits.
Mr. Marks was Mr. Christmas Music in so many ways. He was also a WWII hero with a bronze star and 4 battle stars.
Oh, yeah, and he was jewish.
What a wonderful world!
Oops. There’s my taxi. Must go. More later.