The Unwavering Female Presence Within Holiday Music

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AS SEEN IN GUITAR GIRL MAGAZINE ISSUE 6

The greatness of female performers is not lost on holiday music. In fact, it is abundant and flourishing each and every year. From ultimate holiday classics such as Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” to vibrantly fresh tunes like Gwen Stefani’s “You Make It Feel Like Christmas,” the female performer presence amongst the happiest time of year is apparent to even the grinchiest of hearts. With no shortage of wondrous holiday tunes sung by women, let’s dive into this vast catalog and highlight a small fraction that deserves special attention and repetitious airplay. First, it’s important to showcase the classic holiday songs which undoubtedly make an appearance each year, inducing those feel-good, nostalgic vibes. One example of this specific type of tune is “Sleigh Ride.” Though previously performed by iconic female artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and the Andrews Sisters, “Sleigh Ride” is most commonly linked to the Phil Specter produced adaptation by legendary trio, the Ronettes, and fully encompasses the soulful essence of a true winter wonderland. This specific version, so perfectly executed by the Ronettes, guides current listeners to a time of the past, where harmonic female vocals provided a catchy and irresistible topping to the decadent cake of heavy horns and pulsating drum beats. “Sleigh Ride” became so infectious that more contemporary artists like Amy Grant have gone on to cover the classic tune, showcasing just how timeless holiday music can truly be.

Another example of this reoccurring theme of classic holiday goes contemporary is with the tune, “Santa Baby.” Co-written by female songwriter, Joan Javitz, “Santa Baby” was originally and most notably recorded in 1953 by Eartha Kitt. Ahead of its time in a multitude of fashions, “Santa Baby” crafted a fantastically sexy version of a holiday song. Having been recorded 65 years ago and counting, “Santa Baby” remains a holiday staple and has been covered by a number of popular music’s most celebrated artists such as Madonna and LeAnn Rimes, proving that this unique and sultry tune is here to stay.

Alongside these iconic holiday staples and their celebrated remakes are their more unique counterparts. To expand on this idea is to discuss one fantastic example of unlikely pairings within holiday music, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts rendition of “Little Drummer Boy.” Joan Jett, legendary pioneer of women in rock music, released “Little Drummer Boy” off the1981 hit record I Love Rock N’ Roll. Known for their punky rhythms and hard rock mentality, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts may not have initially appeared compatible with a genre of music known for its exceedingly wholesome domineer. Despite this, the popularity of the rock interpretation of such a classic tune provided evidence towards the understanding that holiday music is incredibly versatile and loved by all, even the rockers of the world.

This trend has been carried on into more present day. Each holiday seasoned is garnished with fresh releases by well-established female performers, as well as those up and coming artists hoping to make a memorable impact onto this timeless, lucrative genre. As seen with Joan Jett, holiday music is any woman’s game, and current pop artists such as Gwen Stefani, Sia, Lady GaGa, Ariana Grande, and Taylor Swift have all released either original songs or covers of the most classic holiday tunes, continuing the unwavering support holiday music has historically received.

Photo: Sia Everything Is Christmas Album Cover

And then we have the ladies who craft the perfect parfait of holiday spirit, enormous presence, and chilling vocals. Artists such as Céline Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and queen of Christmas herself, Mariah Carey, have all greatly contributed to the soundtrack of our holiday season. These performers have been known to respectfully concur the most traditional of holiday songs such as, “O Holy Night” and “Do You Hear What I Hear.” This specific time of year has proven to celebrate and promote the unmatched vocals of some of music’s most iconic female performers of all time.

And, lastly, let’s not forget one of our favorite artists, Lisa Loeb and her inspiring Hanukkah song, “Light” which she released in 2014. “I realized there weren’t enough Hanukkah songs, and I wanted to write one that focused on my favorite part of the Hanukkah story; after the destruction of the Temple, there was only enough oil for one night, but a “miracle” happened, and the oil burned for eight nights. For me, the oil is a metaphor for hope: ‘when you think it’s almost gone, there is still hope.’” Adding a little funk to the Hanukkah season is Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings in “8 Days of Hanukkah.” And one cannot forget the works of Rachel Buchman through her albums for children, Jewish Holiday Songs For Children and Shine Little Candles.

It is without question that the female presence within holiday music is forceful and significant. From heartfelt ballads to sultry pop tunes, holiday music and female performances go hand in hand. So much so, that it has become nearly impossible to highlight each of the monumental female artists that are well deserving of a nod for their contribution to such an iconic and lasting genre of music. Instead, what may be more important is to recognize the tradition of song sharing between female artists in the holiday music world. This act of passing down music perfectly encompasses the intention of the holiday season and showcases the ability of each female performer to craft these holiday tunes into something of their own. In addition, the continual creation of fresh holiday songs breathes life into a historic genre of music that brings joy and happiness into the lives of listeners each and every year.

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Victoria Shaffer's shockingly old soul explains her obsession with music history and passion for classic Rock 'n' Roll. As a student, Victoria graduated with a degree in English and is currently pursuing a master's to continue her growth as a writer. She strives to successfully combine her two obsessions by writing about the musicians and musical events that motivate and inspire her.

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