The now famous carols were written from 1942 to 1954. They began as Christmas cards for friends and family, not as a commercial venture, a collaboration that started with Alfred's father, Reverend Bates G. Burt, who first began the tradition in 1926. After the passing of his father, Al continued writing with long time friend and organist, Wihla Hutson until Al's untimely death on February 7, 1954. Al knew the carols would be released prior to his death, but never knew what an impact they would make on the world.
In 1954, The Columbia Choir, under the direction of Bud Linn, performed twelve of the fifteen Christmas carols of Alfred S. Burt. They were released on a 10 inch LP entitled "The Christmas Mood". It was the first recording ever released of the carols, produced by Buddy Cole for Columbia Records. When it was released as a 12 inch LP in 1955, an instrumental suite was added as Ralph Carmichael arranged a Brass Ensemble medley to be included in the long play album. Norma Zimmer, also known as "The Champagne Lady" from the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, is the featured soloist on "Some Children See Him". Buddy Cole is the organ accompanist for the choir on this track and also on "Ah, Bleak And Chill The Wintry Wind". This recording is the 1995 remastering of the 1955 LP album.
Most of the arrangements on this recording follow the original harmonic lines of Alfred Burt. However, there are many changes which were made that differ from the original intended a cappella form. Later recordings actually contain the true 4 part harmony as originally written on the family cards. Alfred Burt was a jazz musician and was always quick to admit he would never play a piece the same way twice. So, when he would sit at his grand piano and play the carols for friends and family, you would always hear something new. In 1953, Al conducted on the demo that won him the contract with Columbia Records. It also differed from the original 4 part harmonies written on the family cards. So, Al was always inventing new ways to play everything. But over the years, people will remember this recording as their first exposure to the carols and still find this version to be their lasting favorite. Baby Boomers and their parents had this recording as their only reference point to Alfred Burt's ingenious harmonies. Many defend this recording as the only true example of the music as it was intended. This of course is a myth. There are earlier recordings in the Burt family archives which have Al playing chords to some of his carols only few people have ever heard. So, if you want the original music, please look at the Christmas cards from 1942 to 1954.
Missing from this recording are three of the carols. The first one of 1942, "Christmas Cometh Caroling", was omitted due to a copyright clearance issue with regard to publishing. Secondly, the 1944 war time carol, "What Are The Signs" was also left out and lastly, the one Al wrote for his unborn daughter, Diane, entitled "Sleep, Baby Mine", also known as the "Carol Of The Mother". The original 10" disc did not allow for all fifteen carols to be included. The first recordings of these three missing carols are later heard on the 1964 Grammy nominated LP "This Is Christmas" by the Voices Of Jimmy Joyce. The premier recording of all 15 carols together on one album was released by Warner Brothers Records. Note that the third verse of each carol in the 1964 recording actually contain the original harmonic voicings as written on the family cards. Never before the 1964 recording could the public hear all the composer's original 4 part harmony.
The artwork for the final card in 1954 was of a little girl holding a red and silver ornament. Many assumed it was a photo of Al & Anne's daughter, Diane, but it wasn't. It became the album cover. The photo was taken by Tana Hoban for Columbia Records. Ms. Hoban worked briefly as a graphics artist and illustrator before launching a career as a photographer. Her pictures appeared in Life, Look, McCall's and other magazines in the 1940s. Ms. Hoban became a successful advertising photographer and cultivated a specialty in pictures of children. In one year, her photographs of children were on the covers of 16 magazines. In 1959, she was named one of the country's top 10 female photographers.
Much praise has to go to Wihla Hutson for her magnificent lyrics which captured the imagination of this great musician and made it possible for these little masterpieces to touch the hearts of choral music lovers for generations to come.