Wednesday, December 21, 2016


In May, 1946 after being approached by Mel Tormé during a gig at The Trocadero Club in Los Angeles, it was decided that the (Nat) King Cole Trio would record Tormé and Robert Wells' "The Christmas Song". Nat King Cole, Oscar Moore, Johnny Miller and their manager, Carlos Gastel, were emphatic that the song needed more orchestration than the Trio could provide and requested Capitol Records allow the recording session to include strings. Capitol Records was not interested, insisting the song be recorded by only the Trio members.

On June 14, 1946 the Trio recorded the song at the WMCA radio studios in New York. Cole, Moore and Miller were not pleased with the playback version of the song insisting it required more backup. Finally convinced, Capitol Records decided not to release this first recorded version as planned. On August 19, 1946, the Trio returned to WMCA studios to record the song again, this time, Capitol Records allowed a small addition of 4 violins, a harp (Reinhardt Elster) and drummer (Charlie Grean).

The recording was released fall of 1946, immediately becoming a cross-over hit, which at the time meant white people were buying the recording as well as people of color, something quite uncommon back then.

Harpist Reinhardt Elster freelanced prolifically in New York after the war, recording with many, including Perry Como, Marian McPartland, Nat King Cole, and the NBC Symphony under Toscanini. He soon went on to be principal harpist for the Metropolitan Opera House. By the time he retired, Reinhardt Elster had played in thousands of performances at the Met. Marian Anderson’s racially groundbreaking debut in 1955, Lily Pons last performance in 1960, as well as many performances with Leonard Bernstein at the podium. Elster passed away October 5, 2015 in western Massachusetts at the age of 101.

Click the link below to hear Elster and his harp on the first released version of The King Cole Trio’s August, 1946 recording of “The Christmas Song".

Images above: 
Nat King Cole with his daughter, Natalie, 1955 (photo by Michael Ochs, Getty Images). 
Reinhardt Elster (property of Charles Harrington Elster).

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