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A Peggy Lee Christmas Keeps The Fever At Bay

There are no shortage of Peggy Lee Christmas recordings. The ‘Fever’ hitmaker adored the festive season – and had a unique eye for seasonal decorations.

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Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

If you’re searching for a song that truly epitomizes the magic of Christmas, then you’ll struggle to better Peggy Lee’s “The Tree.” There are no shortage of Peggy Lee Christmas recordings, but “The Tree” stands tall among them. A joyous celebration of all things fun and festive, it’s an enduring Yuletide classic brimming with innocence and a childlike wonder that challenges the most cynical of Christmas humbugs.

During “The Tree”’s chorus, Lee gleefully reveals, “We’ll trim it up with shining lights for everyone to see!” And she clearly means every word. Indeed, the famous “Fever” hitmaker adored the festive season and was renowned for dressing her own Christmas trees in a particularly ornate fashion.

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Often erroneously referred to as merely a jazz singer, Lee will always be recalled for timeless hits such as “Why Don’t You Do Right?,” “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place” and “Golden Earrings,” but during her remarkable 60-year career, the versatile North Dakota native also put her indelible stamp on a selection of Christmas hits – many of which are still aired on an annual basis.

Listen to the best Peggy Lee Christmas songs on Spotify.

Few would argue that Peggy Lee recorded the bulk of her legend-enshrining music for Capitol Records, yet she first made her mark on the festive season during her sojourn with Decca during the mid-50s, when she sang several tracks – including “Sisters” and an all-star version of the ubiquitous “White Christmas”, with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye – on the 1954 collection Selections From Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.

One of the last 78rpm albums Decca released, Selections From… was based upon the much-loved movie White Christmas. While Lee didn’t appear in the film, she sang on the spin-off album when contractual difficulties prevented Crosby’s co-star, Rosemary Clooney, from appearing on the record.

The most enduring Peggy Lee Christmas recordings were, however, made for Capitol – most significantly for 1960’s Christmas Carousel: an inspired collection of covers and self-penned yuletide tunes arranged by Billy May (Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Ella Fitzgerald) and produced by Woody Herman acolyte Dave Cavanaugh.

Surely Lee’s ultimate festive statement, Christmas Carousel includes extremely cool, jazzy versions of standards – “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town,” “Deck The Halls” and Mel Tormé and Bob Wells’ “The Christmas Song” (aka “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)” – but also quirky, self-penned numbers such as “The Christmas Tree,” the sleigh bell-assisted “Don’t Forget To Feed The Reindeer” and, of course, “The Tree.”

Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town

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Christmas Carousel is still out there on CD and through digital platforms, as is the album’s updated 1965 reissue, Happy Holiday (a slightly reworked tracklist adds Lee’s suitably nimble versions of “Winter Wonderland” and “The Little Drummer Boy”), and Capitol’s 2006 collection Peggy Lee Christmas, which also includes a poignant Yuletide tune from her later years, “My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year).”

As warm as a cozy fireside, these Peggy Lee Christmas classics are delightful gifts that keep on giving.

Looking for more? Discover the best Christmas songs of all time.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. David Torresen

    December 3, 2022 at 1:57 pm

    It’s not accurate that Peggy “first made her mark on the festive season” with the 1954 “Selections from Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” (1954) album on Decca Records. Her earliest seasonal recording was “Winter Weather,” which she recorded in 1941 with Benny Goodman and his then-male vocalist Art London (later known as Art Lund). A 1947 radio recording of Peggy singing “The Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”) was released on a 1995 CD on the Viper’s Nest label. She sang a winter-themed duet with Bing Crosby, “Little Jack Frost, Get Lost,” released in 1952 on a Decca single (with Bing’s solo version of “Sleigh Ride” on the other side).

    As a solo recording artist Peggy released Christmas-themed singles for both Capitol Records (1949) and Decca (1953). The 1949 Capitol single (#90035) featured songs co-written by Peggy’s friend Willard Robison, “The Christmas Spell” and “Song at Midnight” (the latter song set on New Year’s Eve). The 1953 Decca single (28939) featured the songs “It’s Christmas Time Again” and “Ring Those Christmas Bells,” both with vocal backing by Jud Conlon’s Rhythmaires.

    Finally, it’s puzzling that this 2022 article neglects to mention the most recent collection of Peggy’s holiday recordings, “Ultimate Christmas,” released by UMe/Capitol in 2020. More information about this wonderful and still widely available collection is here:

    https://www.peggylee.com/discography/peggy-lee-ultimate-christmas/

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