NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA– Sure Christmas time in London, New York City or Paris might be memorizing. But we don’t do too bad down here in New Orleans. Where else can you pull up to a bowl of fresh white rice and New Orleans’ Creole-styled gumbo with New Orleans hot sausage? However, our seasoning runs deeper than our food; it’s in our music as well. The good Lord saw fit to endow New Orleans with a musical pedigree like none other and that carries true for holiday music as well.
To get a since of the majesty musical merriment, I visited with a certified musical guru, Shirani Rea, the owner at one of New Orleans’ institutions–Peaches Records. Shirani gave me some of her top choices of Christmas albums from New Orleans natives. As a true collecting genius is, she would bring out her recommendations by the crates, but for the brevity of this article, we will show her standout record choices.
Released in 2011, is Shirani’s first pick, Ellis Marsalis’ (A New Orleans Christmas Carol.) The Marsalis Patriarch offers 20 tracks of delectable holiday fare that cruises the likes of trumpeter Thad Jones and the essential Vince Guaraldi.
Released in 2008is Harry Connick Jr.’s (What a Night! A Christmas Album. ) There are lots of feel good holiday vibes from warmth of Connick’s piano chords, as well as his crooning. A standout is the closing track “Song for the Hopeful;” where vocalist Kim Burrell, who is heralded as gospel’s Ella Fitzgerald of her generation, flutters about with great music prowess.
In 1968, the queen of gospel, Mahalia Jackson reminded us about the reason for the season with her legendary album, (Christmas with Mahalia) on Columbia Records. At times, amidst all the holiday frenzy and fare many of us forget what Christmas was meant to be at it’s core– a birthday celebration. The standout track on this album is “Happy Birthday to You, Our Lord.”
From the Queen of Gospel to the Queen of Bounce, in 2016, Big Freedia released (A Very Big Freedia Christmazz). As expected the album is full of fun and is sure to please the “twerkers.” Big Freedia is always innovative and this record is no exception.
Like the entire city of New Orleans, Shirani has a special affection for trumpeter Kermit Ruffins. (Have a Crazy Cool Christmas is everything to be expected. In 13 tracks, Ruffins explains what a New Orleans Christmas is to all of the universe, at times, with the beauty of a second line. Ruffins is “homegrown” New Orleans at it’s finest and the standout track is “A Saints Christmas.”
Simply put, in 1990, the world was blessed. As Shirani puts it best “Benny Grunch has been doing this album called the 12 Yats of Christmas forever. It’s something that is so New Orleans, that you can’t miss this.” This song is a master course on how to reintroduce a beloved Christmas classic, dust it off and make it New Orleans.
PJ Morton never disappoints. Last year, he gave us his album (Christmas with PJ Morton). It’s everything! If Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and Mint Condition were mixed paint, on the canvas would be PJ Morton. The standout track is Mariah Carrie’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Here it is presented with percussionist/vocalist Stokely in an intriguing new light.
Lastly, there simply is no playlist complete without Louis Armstrong. The recipe for a swinging Christmas starts with his song, “Cool Yule.” As Shirani joyfully explains, “this is one man who introduced Jazz to the Universe and is a must have in everybody’s collection.” Happy Holidays from us here at WGNO and from Peaches Records, may your days be merry and bright and these holiday tunes elevate your Christmas playlist to new heights.