New York City, New York
Woodlawn Cemetery in the northern New York City borough of the Bronx is home to the gravesite of not one, not two, but three of the most prominent Christmas song composers of all time: Victor Herbert, Irving Berlin and Johnny Marks. All three emerged as major players on the New York City music scene in the first half of the 20th century, and each made a huge mark on American Christmas music. The first, Victor Herbert, was an Irish-German immigrant who arrived in America in 1886. In 1903 he debuted Babes in Toyland, a tremendously successful operetta that was later immortalized in the Laurel and Hardy film March of the Wooden Soldiers. The music from Babes in Toyland is extremely familiar, even though the operetta itself has waned in popularity over the years.
The second, and by far the most famous of the three, is Irving Berlin. Berlin, a close friend of Herbert, was a Jewish immigrant from Russia who arrived in New York in 1893. He virtually invented the idea of modern popular music, introducing it into many niches of American life, including Christmas. In 1940 he penned the tune White Christmas, the most famous of several holiday songs he wrote. White Christmas is the definitive pop holiday song, and soon after its debut was featured in the film Holiday Inn. A smash hit during the war, it was revisited a decade later in the namesake film White Christmas. To date the various recorded versions of the song have sold over fifty million copies, making it the single most commercially successful song of all time.
White Christmas aside, no other composer has been as influential to holiday music in the 20th century as Johnny Marks. Marks, a quasi-contemporary of Berlin, introduced the world to A Holly Jolly Christmas, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Run Run Rudolph and, perhaps most famously, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. One of the later figures of the New York City golden age music scene, Marks was also one of the few home-grown, having been born in upstate New York. In 1948 he wrote his most famous Christmas song, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This was followed by a half-dozen major holiday hits over the next decade. Throughout his career he worked with some of the music industry’s greatest recording artists, including Gene Autry, Brenda Lee, Burl Ives and Chuck Berry.
Woodlawn Cemetery sprawls over four-hundred acres in the heart of the Bronx, about ten miles north of Midtown Manhattan. It is open every day of the year from 8:30am-5:00pm. There is no charge for admission. Web: www.thewoodlawncemetery.org (official website of Woodlawn Cemetery).
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