Continuing my tribute to Black History Month, I'd like to share a favorite Christmas TV episode--one from the hit 1980s series Amen. In yesterday's post about the 1963 movie Lilies of the Field and the 1979 TV movie sequel Christmas Lilies of the Field, I mentioned the gospel song "Amen," heard in both of these movies, arranged by songwriter/composer and actor, Jester Hairston. Hairston also appeared in the sitcom Amen as the character Rolly Forbes. If you've watched the series, you may remember the outspoken character Rolly--he had all the best punchlines!
Though the series Amen created several outstanding musical Christmas episodes, the 1987 holiday episode "The Twelve Songs of Christmas" is one of my favorites from the series. Below is an excerpt about this Christmas episode taken from my latest book, Merry Musical Christmas Volume 1.
|My latest book, the first in a series about Christmas music, was released in December 2012.|
|This sitcom starring Sherman Hemsley as Deacon Frye focuses on the lives of the family and staff at the First Community Church, a predominately African-American gospel church in Philadelphia.|
"In 1987’s “The Twelve Songs of Christmas,” the First Community Church choir is invited to participate in the city wide annual Christmas music competition. But no one can agree about which song to perform.
|Everyone in the choir has their own idea about which song would be the best carol to perform in the song competition.|
Everyone thinks their own suggestion is the only possible selection for the choir to sing and the friends become divided. The church elder Rolly even goes so far as to write his own rap song that he performs for the others to prove he knows the most about Christmas music. It’s not until the night of the performance and the moment they are forced to take the stage that the group finally agrees upon what to do.
|Actor Jester Hairston (left) was 86 years old when this TV episode was filmed!|
|Actor Clifton Davis who plays Reverend Gregory is also an accomplished songwriter. He wrote the song “Never Can Say Goodbye,” first recorded in 1971 by the Jackson 5 which went on to be one of their biggest hits.|
|All five choirs in the competition come together on stage and sing "Silent Night."|
The First Community Church ends up winning the songfest competition but TV viewers are the real winners, getting to hear this inspiring choir music year after year in TV reruns. The episode ends with all five choirs visiting Deacon Frye’s home and everyone singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
|Hairston singing the lead on "Mary's Boy Child" during the choir competition. How awesome is this?|
What you may not know is that the elderly actor Jester Hairston, who plays the regular character Rolly Forbes, is the original composer of the classic Christmas carol “Mary’s Boy Child,” the song he gets to sing the lead on in this 1987 episode. Hairston wrote the song in 1956, and it was first recorded by Harry Belafonte and later Mahalia Jackson. It has even been recorded more recently by the Aussie group The Wiggles for their children’s Christmas album Santa’s Rockin’".
Check out this historical TV Christmas musical moment on youtube. Sorry, I couldn't embed the video but here's the link to Part 1 of the 1987 episode:
Here's an audio clip of Harry Belafonte's recording: