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Uncle Sam’s Christmas Tree
by Hans Westerberg
On Christmas Day 1942, Americans were served a fantastic bonanza of big band music in a programme called Uncle Sam's Christmas Tree. Aired over the Blue Network, which later was to become the ABC Network, it started at 12.00 p.m. and featured uninterrupted live broadcasts from forty-three different Army or Navy locations. After twelve hours of almost continuous big band music, Tommy Dorsey closed the programme at midnight from the U.S. Naval Base at San Pedro, California.
During my work on a revised Louis Armstrong discography, I found that Satchmo and his orchestra had also been on this radio show, a Christmas special in the Spotlight Bands series. As Spotlight Bands had been sponsored by the Coca Cola Company, I wrote to them and asked them to research their files. Archivist Janet Pecha
was able to find documents which showed all the names of the participating bands and from which locations the bands broadcast. As this is information which, to my knowledge, has been sought by discographers and collectors of swing band airshots for years, I wish to make it public.
Uncle Sam's Christmas Tree was produced by the D’Arcy Advertising Agency in New York City, who produced the Spotlight Bands series as well. They managed to hire some of the best bands in the nation, Duke Ellington’s being perhaps the most notable omission. Among those who played, we find Jack Teagarden, Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Gene Krupa, Charlie Barnet, Benny Goodman — and the others are not unknowns either. A complete list follows.
Unit No.
1 12.00-12.30 p.m.
2 12.30-12.45 p.m.
3 12.45-1.00 p.m.
4 1.00-1.15 p.m.
5 1.15-1.30 p.m.
6 1.30-1.45 p.m.
7 1.45-2.00 p.m.
8 2.00-2.15 p.m.
9 2.15-2.30 p.m.
10 2.30-2.45 p.m.
11 2.45-3.00 p.m.
12 3.00-3.15 p.m.
13 3.15-3.30 p.m.
14 3.30-3.45 p.m.
15 3.45-4.00 p.m.
16 4.00-4.15 p.m.
Origination Point
The Blue Network Studios, N.Y.C., Washington, D.C. & Memphis, Tenn.
The Eastern Training Center, Fort Monmouth, N.J.
Quantico Marine Barracks, Quantico,Va. Camp Polk, Leesville, La.
War College, Washington, D.C.
Carlisle Barracks, Carlisle, Pa.
New Recreation Center, Edgewood Arsenal, Edgewood, Md.
U.S.S. Wolverine, Aircraft Carrier on
Lake Michigan
Fort Snelling, St. Paul, Minn.
Fort Niagara, Youngstown, N.Y.
Salina Army Air Base, Salina, Kan.
Fort Benning, Columbus, Ga.
Camp Wolters, Mineral Wells, Tex.
Camp Allen, Norfolk, Va Hollywood Florida Gunners School Gymnasium, Naval Air Gunners School, Hollywood, Fla.
Fort Dix, Trenton, N.J.
Raymond Paige, his orchestra and his chorus
Sammy Kaye and his orchestra
Shep Fields and his orchestra Jack Teagarden and his orchestra Richard Himber and his orchestra Vincent Lopez and his orchestra Tony Pastor and his orchestra
Dick Jurgens and his orchestra
Fletcher Henderson and his orchestra
Art Jarrett and his orchestra Johnny ‘Scat’ Davis and his orchestra
Louis Armstrong and his orchestra Ligon Smith and his orchestra Louis Prima and his orchestra Will Osborne and his orchestra
Charlie Spivak and his orchestra
17 4.15-4.30 p.m. Fort Hancock, Sandy Hook, N.J. Jan Savitt and his orchestra
18 4.30-4.45 p.m. U.S. Naval Training Station, New Orleans, La. Ted Lewis and his orchestra
19 4.45-5.00 p.m. U.S. Naval Training School, Noroton Heights, Conn. Earl Hines and his orchestra
20 5.00-5.15 p.m. Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Glenview, 111. Russ Morgan and his orchestra
21 5.15-5.30 p.m. March Field, Riverside, Cal. Gene Krupa and his orchestra
22 5.30-5.45 p.m. U.S. Maritime Training Station, Hoffman Island, N.Y. Blue Barron and his orchestra
23 5.45-6.00 p.m. Camp McCoy, La Crosse, Wis. A1 Kavelin and his orchestra
24 6.00-6.15 p.m. Hill Field, Ogden, Utah Johnny Richards and his orchestra
25 6.15-6.30 p.m. U.S. Naval Training School, Oxford, Ohio Joe Sanders and his orchestra
26 6.30-6.45 p.m. Lowry Field, Denver, Col. Eddie Rogers and his orchestra Songs by Carol Bruce
27 6.45-7.00 p.m. Camp Haan, Riverside, Cal. Freddy Martin and his orchestra
28 7.05-7.15 p.m. Scott Field, Belleville, 111. Henry King and his orchestra
29 7.15-7.30 p.m. Navy Auditorium, Chicago Navy Pier, Chicago, 111. Carl Ravazza and his orchestra
30 7.30-7.45 p.m. Thunderbird Field, Phoenix, Ariz. Hal Grayson and his orchestra
31 7.45-8.00 p.m. Pomona Ordnance Base, Pomona, Cal. Jan Garber and his orchestra
32 8 15-8.30 p.m. Camp Young, The Desert Training Command, Indio, Cal. Bob Mohr and his orchestra
33 8.30-8.45 p.m. Manhattan Beach Coast Guard Station, Manhattan Beach, N.Y. Charlie Barnet and his orchestra
34 8.45-9.00 p.m. U.S. Coast Guard Training Station, Alameda, Cal. George Olsen and his orchestra
35 9.00-9.15 p.m. Camp Stoneman, Pittsburgh, Cal. Del Courtney and his orchestra
36 9.15-9.25 p.m. Fort Lewis, Tacoma, Wash. Glenn Henry and his orchestra
37 9.30-9.55 p.m. Seamen’s Church Institute, Brooklyn, N.Y.C. Bennv Goodman and his orchestra
38 10.30-10.45 p.m. U.S.S. Navy Destroyer Base. San Diego, Cal. Joe Reichman and his orchestra
39 10.45-11.00 p.m. Fort Huachuca, Douglas, Ariz. Les Hite and his orchestra
40 11.00-11.15 p.m. Gardner Field, Taft, Cal Freddie Slack and his orchestra
41 11.15-11.30 p.m. Camp Roberts, Paso Robles, Cal. Ted Fiorito and his orchestra
42 11.30-11.45 p.m. U.S. Army Hospital, Sawtelle, Cal. Horace Heidt and his orchestra
43 11.45-12.00 p.m U.S. Naval Base, San Pedro, Cal. Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra
European collectors who have heard American radio shows only on LP reproductions might have been impressed by the easy-going flair and feeling of on-the-spot improvisation by the announcer. However, the whole twelve hours of Uncle Sam 's Christmas Tree were planned in advance down to the last second. When Satchmo came on from Fort Benning in Georgia at 3.00 p.m. EWT, 143 stations were aireadv transmitting the show, and the script ran as follows:
Announcer: Radio is on the beam... straight from Fort Benning at Columbus. Georgia... to YOl'R house...
(Cold) to bring your boys in uniform closer to home on Christmas Dav!
MUSIC: Louis Armstrong Theme... Forte... Fades on cue for:
Louis: (On cue... over music) (Following applause)
Thank you... thank you very much... and this is Louis Armstrong. Here, we are sittin’ way on top of Uncle Sam's Christmas Tree pretty as a picture! Yes, sir! And we’re going to have a lot of fun in this next fifteen minutes, playing for these fine Army boys down here in Georgia! (Music out) Not only that, but we’re going to do a LOT of playin’ for ’em after we’re off the air! But, now that we’re ON it... let’s fill it! With music! And here’s some real home cookin’! MUSIC: Darlin' Nellie Gray (Applause)
Announcer: Well sir, back in the Spotlight a few weeks ago, Louis Armstrong really broke it up with one of his smilin’ specialities! And we think it would deliver a lot of Christmas Cheer to the boys here at Fort Benning! Anyway, let’s see if we’re right! Here’s Louis Armstrong and... Me And Brother Bill!
MUSIC: Me And Brother Bill (Applause)
Announcer: And how do you like that for an ovation! We hnow you like it... because applause like that
spells happiness... and happiness for your boys in uniform is bound to mean a merrier Christmas for you folks at home! So, Uncle Sam’s Christmas Tree continues to unload its bundles of musical fun, as Velma Middleton takes her turn at the microphone to sing... Mr.
Five By Five!
MUSIC: Mr. Five By Five