Holiday Harmony Sides

In keeping with the holidays, Classic Urban Harmony turns the spotlight on a legendary harmony "Sound of the Season".

 

The Orioles - "Lonely Christmas"

One of the greatest R&B vocal group Christmas songs of all time was brought to us by the group that started it all, the Orioles.  Earlington Tilghman (Sonny Til), George Nelson, Alexander Sharp, Johnny Reed and Tommy Gaither burst onto the scene in the Fall of 1948 with the guidance of songwriter-manager extraordinaire, Deborah Chessler.  Deborah's masterpiece, "It's Too Soon To Know," as recorded by the Orioles, revolutionized the music industry and gave birth to Rhythm & Blues.

 

(The Orioles ca. 1948: Left to right, Top Row: Alex Sharp,
George Nelson, Sonny Til.  Bottom Row: Tommy Gaither, Johnny Reed)

The group's second record, "To Be To You" (Jubilee #5001), came out in December 1948 and was paired with a Christmas side, "(It's Going To Be A) Lonely Christmas."  In spite of the fact that "It's Too Soon To Know" was still selling strong at the time, "Lonely Christmas" quickly climbed to #8 on the R&B Charts (called Race Record Charts at the time).  Being a seasonal record, it didn't last on the charts very long.  In January 1949, Jubilee began pressing "To Be To You" with "Dare To Dream" as the flip.  Thus Jubilee #5001 with "Lonely Christmas" on one side was only on sale for about a month!  That explains why this record, available only on 78 RPM, is one of the rarest of the Orioles' records to find today.

 

(Rare 1948 promo 78 of Jubilee #5001, from CUH Archives)

 

A year later (December 1949), Jubilee again released "Lonely Christmas", this time as Jubilee #5017, paired with "What Are You Doing New Years Eve."  For the second year in a row, the Orioles' "Lonely Christmas" peaked in the R&B Top Ten Charts, reaching #5.  The New Years flip also reached #9.

 

(1949 Issuing of Lonely Christmas" on Jubilee #5017, from CUH Archives)

 

In the 1950's Jubilee continued to press #5017, "Lonely Christmas" b/w ""What Are You Doing New Years Eve" every Christmas season.  Through Christmas in 1952, copies on 78 and 45 RPM featured the "script" Jubilee label.

 

(Rare, ca. 1950 "script" label 45 of Jubilee #5017, from CUH Archives)

 

By Christmas 1953, 45 RPM copies of Jubilee #5017 no longer bore the script label, but instead used a label with "Jubilee" underlined.

 

(ca. 1954 45 RPM issuing of Jubilee #5017, from CUH Archives)

 

One interesting piece from the early 1950's is a picture sleeve for Jubilee #5017.

 

(Rare picture sleeve from 45 of Jubilee #5017)

 

By the late 1950's/early 1960's, Jubilee #5017 was being reissued on Jubilee's black label.

 

(Late 1950's/early 1960's pressing of Jubilee #5017, from CUH Archives)

 

In 1962, Sonny Til reformed the Orioles while living in Philadelphia.  Sonny first recruited former Spaniels bass Gerald Gregory.  The Spaniels had also ended up in Philadelphia, with former Castelles' Billy Taylor replacing Pookie Hudson at lead.  Gregory brought Billy Taylor into the Orioles and Taylor in turn brought in his friend Delton McCall who'd formerly filled in with the Castelles and Dreams.  The group recorded a remake of "Lonely Christmas" for the Charlie Parker label.  It came out as a single in November 1962.

 

45 of "Lonely Christmas" by the 1960's Orioles

 

The early 1960's Orioles were actually Sonny's third Orioles group.  Members are shown here individually.

 

(Sonny Til with Charlie Horner, 1980)

 

(Gerald Gregory with Pam Horner, late 1990's)

 

[Billy Taylor (left) and Delton McCall, 2007]

All of the original Orioles are now gone.  In 2009 we lost Billy Taylor, the last of the sixties' Orioles.  "(It's Gonna Be A) Lonely Christmas" is still an annual seasonal favorite, withstanding the test of time; a tribute to the singers who created it.

For this year's Holiday Harmony spotlighted record, click Drifters' "White Christmas."

 

 

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