by Rev. John Farmer
Christmas is Just around the Corner
I came onto this spinning orb just a month after Christmas 1943, at the height of the Big Band sound, you know, the Jitterbug age. Bee-bop, rhythm and blues soon met rock and roll and all the old folks lamented their loss.
“Flappers” who danced the Charleston really felt despair… the music had slowed.
Early TV, popular radio broadcasts all had a wholesome family environment, even if the stars did not reflect such personally. Leslie Uggums was a child singer. Gary Moore, Arthur Godfrey, Jack Parr and Milton Berle were network hosts, entertainers. My favorite, Kate Smith, was warbling “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain.”
Now, you got me pegged, yet? About that same time Church hymns got a hold of my life and have yet to relinquish their grip. So, for most of my life I have been critic over and observer of the masses as they qualified and quantified vacillating musical preferences.
The 1958 Miss America, Anita Bryant, was a beautiful gal with a big voice that propelled her from her native Oklahoma to national stardom. For more decades than I want to admit owning, she was a featured singer with the Bob Hope USO tour. Countless thousands of American, Canadian and British Troops had a “Merry Christmas” thanks to them.
It was my good fortune to be part of the 1970s team which hosted her through Richmond’s Tobacco Row while on tour.
Anita grew up and held to her childhood conservative Christian faith. In the late 1960s, early ‘70s she took a moral stand (not popular with the liberal public) that detoured her career. Her talents as a TV star suffered because her advertisers found her a “too hot” property. She went from recording artist, TV game and variety shows to out-of-the-way stages and faded from prominent view. Detractors clucked as her marriage failed.
Almost two decades ago, in selecting a show in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., for our multigenerational blended family to attend, I learned that Anita Bryant had taken over The Music Mansion. Instantly I knew that whatever show held her name would be a safe place to expose the ones I love.
Having digested our turkey day feast and hitting the leftovers several times we arrived at the theater. I began to have second thoughts about our two teenage boys. Could they, would they endure the offering that would bless the rest of us?
After, the lights dimmed and the band struck up, a gang of post-teen lads and lasses danced out on the stage and put a very contemporary spin on the evening. Popular Christmas music followed. Miss Bryant took center stage (in reality and in our hearts).
She took us down memory lane so succinctly that I could see the Thalhimers and Miller & Rhodes windows and even see the Snow Princess, Santa’s helper elves, and old Saint Nick himself.
Just before intermission the young dancers, orchestra and backup singers introduced a slow almost whispered “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” I could smell the hay in Jesus’ manger. Such romanticism, such passion I had never heard in that tune. Soon the audience was swaying, stomping their feet and singing along. The drums picked up their tempo, the vocalists hit their stride and Miss Bryant pulled herself into the pageant with gusto.
I cast a side-glance down our row to see if the boys were surviving. They grew up, don’t you see, listening to their parents’ music, and promoted themselves into rock, then rap music. Well, all about us the room was getting to look and sound a lot like Christmas. Both boys were signing on.
A few short measures later the room erupted as the stage-bound performers broke through. The music got louder, the tempo quickened; you could feel the power of the Holy Spirit in that place. Rob and Justin were up on their feet, singing, clapping and thoroughly projected into the Christmas spirit.
What an endorsement for doing the right thing. Both boys proclaimed the night a success. Both wanted to go back again; ah, to visit the sounds of my youth.
I thank God for Anita Bryant’s ethical stand, her faith; and that decades later she could still wow the crowds, fill our eyes with tears and capture the hearts of two fine chaps some 40- or 50-plus years, her junior.
All about the Great Smoky Mountains, along the long road home, across our bridge and on the streets, lanes and avenues of the Northern Neck we were welcomed home by the sights of Christmas.
Christmas was born again in my heart. My faith still stands. God can still reach our youth; let’s all continue to expose them. It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, sounds like it too.
Merry Christmas to each of you. My abiding thanks for being so supportive each week and God bless you in his New Year.