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Cherry Red’s él Label Spends Christmas In Nashville with Anita Kerr and Chet Atkins

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Atkins and Kerr - ChristmasCherry Red Records’ él imprint is celebrating this Christmas in Nashville with the recent release of The Anita Kerr Singers and Chet Atkins at Christmas. This new two-for-one CD includes both Christmas with Chet Atkins (1961) and The Kerr Singers’ On This Holy Night (1959) plus a smattering of related bonus tracks.

It’s nearly impossible to sum up the career of Chet Atkins in a mere few words. The fourteen-time Grammy winner (1924-2001) was a mainstay of the RCA Victor label between 1947 and 1982 as a performer, producer and executive. Ranked the No. 12 Greatest Guitarist of All Time by Rolling Stone, he was also a key participant in the creation of the “Nashville Sound” which made country palatable to crossover audiences by applying pop touches such as string arrangements. Christmas with Chet Atkins arrived in 1961 from the prolific artist, featuring fourteen sublimely understated guitar renditions of holiday favorites and spirituals alike, from “Jingle Bell Rock” to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” His prior album, also released in 1961, was titled The Most Popular Guitar, and Atkins proved why as he applied both sparkling musicianship and a pop sheen to this selection of Christmas carols played on a variety of guitars. Atkins was joined by his frequent guests, The Anita Kerr Singers, who added both wordless harmonies and occasional lyrics to the set.

As a major component of The Nashville Sound, Anita Kerr led her Anita Kerr Singers on records by Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Brenda Lee, Eddy Arnold, Willie Nelson and Floyd Cramer. The group’s distinctive vocal harmonies were also heard behind Roy Orbison, Perry Como, Rosemary Clooney, Bobby Vinton, and too many others in the pop and rock arenas to mention. Like The Sweet Inspirations or The Jordanaires, The Anita Kerr Singers also struck out on their own even as they continued to support other artists. In 2013, the él label reissued two of the group’s earliest LPs on one CD, The Genius in Harmony and Nashville…The Hit Sound (both from 1962).

On This Holy Night predates both of those releases. The LP was recorded with producer Owen Bradley in 1959 for the transcription library of performance rights organization SESAC, originally The Society for European Stage Authors and Composers. Most of the LP’s twelve tracks were traditional Christmas songs including “Deck the Halls,” “The Coventry Carol” and “The Cherry Tree Carol,” all with Kerr’s warm and intricate vocal arrangements. (An a cappella “Where Will the Baby Lay” is particularly beautiful.) Soprano Kerr was joined on the album by alto Dorothy Dillard, tenor Gil Wright and bass Louis Nunley, as well as musicians Hank Garland (guitar), Harold Bradley (guitar), Bob Moore (bass), Douglas Kirkham (drums), Marvin Hughes (piano), Robert Bays (French horn), and James Hall, James LeCroy and Gene Mullin (trombones).

What bonuses will you find here? Hit the jump for that and more, including the full track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 8, 2014 at 11:16

The Anita Kerr Singers Step Out of the Background On Reissue of “The Genius in Harmony”

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Anita Kerr - Genius in HarmonyThe release of director Morgan Neville’s documentary 20 Feet from Stardom has rightfully placed the spotlight on those dynamite vocalists who toil in the shadows on record and onstage, often without credit.  Background singers are part and parcel of the story of popular music, and Neville’s film has given richly-deserved attention to Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear, Judith Hill, and other greats of the field.  The story of background groups like The Breakaways, The Jordanaires, The Andantes and The Sweet Inspirations could fill an entire motion picture, too.  And one of the most successful such groups of all time was The Anita Kerr Singers.  As a major component of The Nashville Sound, Anita Kerr led her choir on records by Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Brenda Lee, Eddy Arnold, Willie Nelson and Floyd Cramer.  Their distinctive harmonies were also heard behind Roy Orbison, Perry Como, Rosemary Clooney, Bobby Vinton, and too many others to mention.  Like The Sweet Inspirations or The Jordanaires, The Anita Kerr Singers also struck out on their own even as they continued to support other artists, and Cherry Red’s él label has recently reissued two of the group’s earliest LPs on one CD.  The Genius in Harmony includes the entirety of the group’s 1962 RCA Victor tribute to Ray Charles along with its immediate predecessor, the same year’s Nashville…The Hit Sound.

Born in Tennessee, Anita Kerr was only in her early twenties when her eight-voice choir achieved a spot on radio station WSM, home of the Grand Ole Opry.  Her weekly broadcasts led to a call to join Red Foley in the recording studio for “Our Lady of Fatima” became a No. 16 Pop hit in 1950, and from there, Anita Kerr’s career took off.  She was signed by Owen Bradley to Decca Records, and by 1955, Kerr was leading a group on roughly eight recording sessions per week.  (The liner notes to él’s CD surmise that the group was heard on 25 percent of the recordings made in Nashville in the latter half of the 1950s!)  In 1956 her slimmed-down vocal quartet won the opportunity to appear regularly on Arthur Godfrey’s popular Talent Scouts program on both television and radio.  Arranger/singer Kerr- also a gifted pianist, composer and producer – signed with RCA Victor in 1961, leading to the two LPs on the new CD reissue.

Hit the jump for more on both albums, including the full track listing with discography and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 18, 2013 at 13:20