Mystery Solved: Here's How 'My Favorite Things' From 'The Sound of Music' Became a Christmas Song
Some mysteries may never be solved, like who built the pyramids, and was that an asteroid or an alien spacecraft that just flew by Earth? But just in time for the holidays, Billboard has solved one long-standing puzzlement: why is “My Favorite Things,” composed by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for The Sound of Music, considered a Christmas song?
The tune was first heard in the Broadway production, which opened on Nov. 16, 1959. Although it wasn’t written as a holiday song, there were lyrical references to sleigh bells, snowflakes, silver-white winters and brown paper packages tied up with strings.
The first time “My Favorite Things” became associated with Christmas was in 1961, when Julie Andrews performed the song on a Garry Moore TV holiday special – long before she starred in the movie version of The Sound of Music, which was filmed in 1964 and released in April 1965.
For most of the young actors who portrayed the von Trapp children in the movie, “My Favorite Things” was not a familiar song when they had to learn it. “I had never seen the play or heard the music,” says Angela Cartwright, who played Brigitta in the film. “But I was wholeheartedly into the Beatles, so that’s not surprising.” Cartwright tells Billboard she understands why the song is a holiday favorite: “This is the season of good tidings and blessings. Recalling one’s favorite things seems to make it the perfect song for this season. Brown paper packages tied up with string? Yes, please.”
But Andrews’ appearance on Moore’s special didn’t cement the song’s reputation as a Christmas favorite. The song wasn’t released on a holiday album until 1964, when it was featured on The Jack Jones Christmas Album. So why was Jones the first artist to include “My Favorite Things” on a holiday LP?
Jones had already recorded several albums for the independent Kapp label, founded by Dave Kapp, who produced most of Jones’ work. The Christmas LP was produced by Kapp’s son, Mickey Kapp. Lou Simon, senior director, music programming of SiriusXM, once asked Mickey how the song ended up on Jones’ holiday set. “He told me that a song plugger from Williamson Music [the music publishing division of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization] approached him in 1964 with a request. He asked Mickey if he would record one of the songs from the score of The Sound of Music with a Kapp artist because a movie version was coming out in the spring, and there wasn’t a hit song from the show – they wanted something that would be as big as ‘Maria’ from West Side Story. The plugger said they were worried because this was such a big-budget movie, and they thought having a hit song would help sell tickets.”
Mickey and the rep from Williamson considered all of the songs from the musical and the roster of Kapp artists, which included Louis Armstrong and the vocal group Ruby & the Romantics. Armstrong had a No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 earlier that year with another Broadway song, “Hello, Dolly!” and was a logical candidate.
Mickey told the song plugger that he was producing a Christmas album for Jones, and the man from Williamson suggested the crooner record “My Favorite Things.” “But that’s not a Christmas song,” Mickey protested. “Just add sleigh bells,” the promoter suggested.
“Mickey and I discussed it and agreed it would make a good Christmas song,” Jones confirms to Billboard. “I still sing the song live today,” says the performer, who is going on the road in early 2018 for a series of 80th birthday concerts in the U.K. “I open with a Sound of Music medley that includes the title song, ‘My Favorite Things’ and ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain.’ We do ‘My Favorite Things’ as a fast swing number, so it doesn’t really sound like a Christmas song.”
One of the musicians who will accompany Jones on the U.K. tour is Paul Lowden, who met the singer at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve 1971. “I was the orchestra leader that night and heard Jack belt out ‘My Favorite Things’ and man, did he swing!” Lowden tells Billboard. “I still have that recording from 1971. Working with Jack is a professional privilege for any musician and I’m honored to be with him on the Hammond B-3 organ.”
The Jack Jones Christmas Album peaked at No. 15 on Billboard’s holiday chart in 1964 (and was released on CD for the first time in November 2016 on the Real Gone label). While Jones was the first artist to include “My Favorite Things” on a Christmas album, by December 1965, the Rodgers & Hammerstein composition was featured on holiday LPs by the Supremes, Andy Williams and Eddie Fisher. Two years later, Barbra Streisand recorded it for her Christmas album, and in 1968 Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass cut a holiday version. Released as a single the following year, Alpert’s instrumental recording is the only version to ever appear on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 45. Even jazz innovator John Coltrane recorded the song, delivering a 14-minute version that served as the title track to his 1961 album.
Since those early holiday recordings, “My Favorite Things” has appeared on Christmas albums by Johnny Mathis, Kenny Rogers, Carpenters, Lorrie Morgan, the Whispers, Luther Vandross, SWV, Petula Clark, Perry Como, Barry Manilow, Anita Baker, Dionne Warwick, the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Kenny G, Rod Stewart, Carole King, Chicago, Kelly Clarkson, Mary J. Blige and Tony Bennett.
“Tony and I hosted a TV special in Canada and we performed the Sound of Music medley as a duet,” says Jones. “Tony is a good friend and that is the only video I have of us singing together.”
As for Julie Andrews, her 1967 holiday LP Christmas Treasure with Andre Previn featured 14 seasonal classics -- but somehow, "My Favorite Things" didn't make the cut. But that's a mystery for another time.