The Calypso Christmas album, by the DePaur Chorus, was originally released on Columbia records. It’s nice when some of the “old” favorites are made available on CD. The re-release was by Sony Music in 2001. I love to put this album on for a change of pace from the rhythm of standard Christmas music.
The original date of this album was 1956, but Wikipedia indicated that the DePaur Chorus existed from 1960-1968. Prior to that time, DePaur was in the military and directed the De Paur Infantry Chorus, men from the 372nd Infantry Glee Club, civilians and members of other branches of the services. It does say that they signed with Columbia Records, so this must have been recorded by the DePaur Infantry Chorus.
Total running time is only 30 minutes, as this is from an LP record. The tracks are:
1. Christmas in de Tropics- This is a fun song about decorating without an evergreen tree, or having a chimney, but with trinkets and tropical fruits, and celebrating in the marketplace with rum, wearing panama hats.
2. De Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy [Trinidad Calypso]- This song is fairly familiar, as it has been recorded by a number of groups. It’s easy to sing along with, as it repeats the same phrases quite a bit, in a lilting tune.
3. Sweet Little Jesus Boy- This is a soft lullaby, sometimes known as “We Didn’t Know Who You Was.” It’s a haunting and touching song of apology for the failure of so many to recognize who Jesus was.
4. Mary Had a Baby- This is a short question and answer type spiritual, where one portion of the chorus poses a question, and the other singers answer.
5. La Virgen Lava Panales [Mexican]- This song is sung in both Spanish and English, and tells a story of Mary washing Jesus’ swaddling clothes. The tune is recognizably Latin.
6. Christmas Present for Sallie [Calypso Derived of Barbados Folk Lore]- This is a humorous ballad of a man returning home to his wife, Sallie, on Christmas Eve. He is waylaid by relatives and friends, and they drink all the rum he had, and take the present he had for Sallie. He gets home late, and she sends him out to retrieve the gift. But by the time the sun is high on Christmas he hasn’t found anything, and Sallie bounces twelve rum bottles off his head, “a very sad situation!”
7. Mary's Little Boy Chile [Calypso]- This is another familiar calypso Christmas tune, but this version is even more high energy than many I have heard.
8. Oh, Poor Little Jesus- This is another soft and mellow tune that proposes that the “world gonna break your heart.” It makes a nice contrast with the upbeat songs, and has beautiful, close harmony.
9. Mary, Mary Where Is Your Baby? [Spiritual]- Another question and answer spiritual in a minor key, in which the chorus asks a question which Mary answers, and then the group sings a chorus of praise.
10. Roun' de Glory Manger- This is a quick-time, upbeat telling of Jesus’ birth in a stable. One line is “all his pretty little fingers played in the straw, ” a delightful image full of glory and light.
11. What You Gonna Call Yo' Pretty Little Baby?- The words are similar to other songs, but this song is sung in a minor key, sort of a foretelling of the many unfavorable names Jesus would be called, and yet Mary chooses to call him Jesus, and Emmanuel.
12. Ring de Christmas Bells- The album ends on an upbeat song, telling the story of three wise men bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh, because Jesus “shall be King of Kings.”
Even though there are a few off-key notes sung on this album, I just love it. Perhaps the calypso beat is so catchy that it just can’t be ignored. It makes me want to sing along, or even dance in celebration. And Christmas is surely a celebration!
You can find quite a bit more information about this album on line. It seems to have become one of the classic holiday favorites, bringing forth fond memories from many people. There was apparently a lot of information on the LP album cover, which was not printed on the CD insert. The insert has nothing except the playlist information, with titles, times, composers and arrangers.
All incarnations of the DePaur Chorus were conducted by Leonard DePaur, 1914-1998. He was born in New Jersey, and eventually studied at Juilliard. His chorus, and later the DePaur Opera Gala, were known for performances of Winged Victory, Porgy and Bess, Four Saints in Three Acts, and Carmen Jones.
The Calypso Christmas CD can still be found on Amazon Marketplace or eBay. I’m thrilled that I managed to get a copy for only $1.00.