In the years since its 1987 1948 founding, Folkways Records has become a treasured home to thousands of albums of jazz, blues, world and folk music. In For this holiday season, we present to you a list of Smithsonian Folkways’ best holiday songs. Purchase CDs or downloads from the Folkways’ website—and gather the whole family round the yule log to have a listen.
1. American Folk Songs for Christmas: In 1957, composer Ruth Crawford Seeger gathered her three daughters with children from the South Boston Music School to record 17 tracks for the holiday season. The collection ranges from traditional tunes from the British Isles to African-American spirituals and chants from the slavery era.
2. Christmas Carols: This 1956 classic has all the traditional Christmas carols—”O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “Silent Night, Holy Night” included—sung by folk artist Andrew Rowan Summers with an accompanying dulcimer. But Rowan’s renditions may differ from what you’ve heard before: he returns to the ancient lyrics for many of these tunes, producing a more authentic version of the song. The liner notes include a fascinating history on the development of caroling in Europe.
3. Holiday Times: This album, by beloved folk artist Ella Jenkins, features 26 songs, stories, rhymes and chants for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other holidays. Enjoy the Christmas classic “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” along with the Hanukkah tune “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.” Listen to Jenkins and others play the harmonica, ukelele, pipe organ and other instruments and have your own family sing-along.
4. Traditional Christmas Carols: Pete Seeger’s holiday album is “a real alternative to the wall of strings or the overly sweet sound of many Christmas collections,” says Dirty Linen, a bi-monthy folk music magazine. Seeger’s collection includes 13 French, English, Italian and African-American carols and spirituals, all performed in his trademark folk style.
5. Christmas Songs from Many Lands: The late Canadian folk singer Alan Mills, a prolific performer on the Folkways label, joins with guitarist Gilbert Lacombe to perform holiday music from 15 different cultures and countries. The tracks include a number of Mills’ personal favorites that depart from the traditional Christmas repertoire and provide listeners with unusual surprises.