This blog post was co-written with Bryan Cornell, Reference Librarian, Recorded Sound Section, Library of Congress.
Tis the season for Christmas carols and familiar holiday favorites, but did you know Santa Claus recorded for Victor Records?
Well, not really. Gilbert Girard was a talented performer who frequently recorded children’s records with popular recording artist Len Spencer. He also specialized in recitations and animal imitations, a talent for which he was prolific and well-known. He recorded a series of children’s recordings playing Santa Claus. These novelty records, made from 1918 until 1922, were produced especially for the children’s market and heavily promoted during the holiday season. They featured nursery rhymes, animal noises and many other sound effects. In fact, Girard was something of a practical joker and used his animal imitations to good effect when he visited Africa. According to Jim Walsh, whose personal papers are held by the Recorded Sound Section at the Library of Congress, “[Girard] sat up all night in his hotel room, roaring like a lion and frightening everyone. . . into believing that a man-eater was parked just outside.”
In the first recording, Santa Claus Tells About His Toy Shop, Santa arrives on his sleigh, complete with bells and galloping reindeer. Greeting all the children, he describes his toy shop as being deep within a “mighty cave aglow with a million lights.” Inside his workshop are living models of “all the beasts of the earth and birds of the air” which Girard imitates with an impressive selection of howling animals, singing birds, and growling polar bears. By the end of the record, Santa promises to come back and tell how he gave away all his toys.
Santa Claus Gives Away His Toys is next in the series. Santa arrives in his sleigh and invites everyone to climb aboard and accompany him as he delivers his presents. The journey takes Santa and friends over mountains and rivers, the twinkling lights of a city and finally everyone lands on the roof of a house. Down the chimney Santa goes, visiting each sleeping family member in their rooms, and bestowing a perfect gift. Next stop is a church and Santa leaves many toys and presents for all.
Enjoy listening to Santa, and we wish you a wonderful Holiday!