THE STORIES BEHIND 5 SONGS YOU’LL SEE ON CHRISTMAS AT THE OPRY
By Sarah Skates
Christmas at the Opry will ring in the holiday season with a star-studded special filmed at Nashville’s famed Grand Ole Opry house. The two-hour musical event is hosted by Wynonna Judd and welcomes Kelly Clarkson, Chrissy Metz, Brenda Lee, Trace Adkins, Chris Janson, Lauren Alaina and more, performing Christmas favorites and today's biggest hits. Christmas at the Opry will air on NBC Thursday, Dec. 7 at 8/7c, and stream the next day on Peacock. An encore presentation is scheduled for Dec. 20 at 9/8c.
“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” performed by Brenda Lee
The incomparable Brenda Lee appears on Christmas at the Opry to perform her most famous song, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree." She’s now at #1 for the first time 65 years after the song was recorded in 1958, solidifying the classic as a Nashville studio success story. Renowned songwriter Johnny Marks, who had previously written “A Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” penned “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and tapped then 13-year-old rising star Brenda Lee to record the vocals. Famed producer Owen Bradley brought in his A-Team of first-call studio musicians and the result was a song that would become iconic. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” has helped create memorable scenes in movies including the holiday favorite Home Alone.
“Mary, Did You Know?” performed by Wynonna
This passionate ode about the birth of Christ has become a modern-day standard. Mark Lowry originally penned the lyrics for a church Christmas play, and several years later teamed with Buddy Greene who wrote the music. “Mary, Did You Know?” was first popularized by Michael English, their colleague in the Gaither Vocal Band. Since then it has been recorded by hundreds of artists including Wynonna with Kenny Rogers, as well as Carrie Underwood and Dolly Parton.
“White Christmas” performed by Trace Adkins
“White Christmas” has captivated listeners since Bing Crosby performed it live on the radio in 1941—its melancholy message striking a nerve with Americans in the days following the Pearl Harbor attack. Legendary composer Irving Berlin was also feeling somber about the holidays when he penned the song and was likely remembering the death of his infant son on Christmas day years earlier. Crosby cemented the song’s status by performing it in the films Holiday Inn (for which it won an Academy Award for Best Original Song) and again in White Christmas. Since then it has been covered by The Supremes, Bette Midler and Lady Gaga. For Christmas at the Opry, Trace Adkins lends his country baritone to the holiday classic.
“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” performed by Wynonna and Kelly Clarkson
Legend has it that professional songwriters J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie penned “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” while riding the New York City subway to a meeting with their music publisher. The upbeat children’s song was first recorded by Harry Reser and his band, but it was Eddie Cantor’s performance on his radio show in 1934 that made it a huge hit. Since then, the song has been reinvited and repopularized by artists ranging from The Jackson Five to Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. Tune in to Christmas at the Opry to see Wynonna and Kelly Clarkson put their spin on the holiday classic.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” performed by Breland and Mickey Guytan
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” resonated with millions of Americans when it was released in 1943, amid World War II and soldiers fighting overseas. Songwriters Kim Gannon and Walter Kent perfectly captured a feeling of homesickness and longing in the lyrics by listing Christmas traditions such as mistletoe and presents. But the song, which many interpreted as a letter from a soldier, signs off with a twist: “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” A few years and a lawsuit later, producer Buck Ram was added to the songwriting credits. A stellar performance by Bing Crosby made the song an instant classic and it has continued to be embraced by generations, including Breland and Mickey Guyton, who bring their own stellar voices to the legendary number.
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