Bing Crosby’s version of the Irving Berlin-penned song “White Christmas” is the biggest-selling single in music history. Bonus: “White Christmas” also is the most recorded Christmas song in history.
The list of artists who have charted with “White Christmas” reads like an all-star roster.
A sampling: Frank Sinatra. Ernest Tubb. Perry Como. Otis Redding. Andy Williams. Michael Bolton. Garth Brooks. Gwen Stefani. Martina McBride. Bette Midler. Meghan Trainor.
For a new twist on the holiday standard, how about six voices working in tandem?
Oklahoma Music Hall of Famer Kelly Lang partnered with her husband, T.G. Sheppard, and a legendary quartet, the Oak Ridge Boys, for a new version of “White Christmas” released this month.
“‘White Christmas’ is one of those songs that has been done so many times that it’s hard to do it differently,” Sheppard said, indicating that, in preparation for the team-up, they “went to school” on a 2011 Michael Buble-Shania Twain version of the song.
“They did a duet together many years ago, and it had the doo-wops in it. The Oaks were perfect for that, to do that on the record. Of course, we love them. They are dear friends, and they are always ready to go in the studio. But I guess what brought it on was we just wanted to do it a little bit differently than it has been done before. It is kind of reminiscent of the ‘50s and ‘60s doo-wop sound. Hopefully people will get a kick out of the spin that we put on it.”
Said Lang: “We tease that when one of the Oak Ridge Boys walks in, it’s exciting. But when all four of them walk in, the earth shakes. They are just so charismatic. Their sound is so original to themselves. And when they walk in, they are just so generous and kind and they are friends. A lot of people wonder if we are truly friends in the music industry, and I can surely say we indeed are. But they didn’t hesitate when we asked them.”
Sometimes artists don’t see each other in the studio, said Lang, but, on this venture, they went old-school and recorded the song together.
“We wanted to make sure it had that feeling of family and home, and hopefully that will translate to your listeners,” she said.
The song, available for streaming and downloads, is a one-year-early appetizer for a Sheppard and Lang Christmas album in 2023. Sheppard said “White Christmas” will be on the album with a few original songs, like “Christmas in Mexico,” which they released last year. Lang said the album will include solo tracks from her and Sheppard, plus a few duets.
Sheppard said “White Christmas” is one of his favorite Christmas songs. He said it’s one of those magic songs, like “Winter Wonderland” and “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).”
“There are so many, but this is the one,” he said. “It’s the one that everybody loves the most. The Oaks love this particular Christmas song, too, so it was easy for them to say ‘yes’ to come sing with us.” “Nobody had to learn the lyrics,” Lang said.
Asked why “White Christmas” hits a sweet spot with people, Lang said, “I don’t know. All I know is that when I heard Michael and Shania do it the first time, it was like hearing a song as if I had never heard it before, the way they did a fresh spin. I loved her harmonies with him. It turned into my new favorite Christmas song, and I would sing it around the house a lot.”
Lang suggested to her husband that they should try “White Christmas” if they ever tackled another Christmas project. The addition of the Oak Ridge Boys for doo-wops was a cherry on top.
“Just the combination of all three of us together, our sounds are all so different that it’s an interesting mix,” Lang said. “We all have similar fan bases, and I just hope the fans will embrace this like I did the Michael Buble and Shania Twain version. Maybe they can put it on their favorite playlists as well.” Fans of the Oaks (managed for decades by Tulsa-based impresario Jim Halsey) will immediately recognize Richard Sterban’s sonic boom.
“People love to hear him do that bass line on ‘Elvira,’ so we just kind of spotlighted him on this particular song,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard previously collaborated with the Oaks on a Lang-written song (“Down on My Knees”) for his “Legendary Friends & Country Duets” album.
“Our longtime friend and brother T.G. Sheppard called and asked if we would sing ‘White Christmas’ with him and Kelly Lang, and of course we agreed to do it,” Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys said. “Not only do we love them both, but ‘White Christmas’ is probably the most classic Christmas song there is. Overall, it was a great time in the studio, and the final mix came out just great. We are honored to be a part of it.”
Said Sheppard: “It’s one of those songs that paints a picture when you hear it. It’s just Christmas. Always, you think of snow. A lot of people aren’t in parts of the world where they get snow, but some of my fondest Christmases were with snow on the ground, so, for me, it’s kind of special and takes me back, ‘White Christmas’ does.”
Near the end of a phone interview, Sheppard told a story about visiting the North Pole in Alaska. He said he sat down with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus at Santa’s workshop and “all of a sudden I turned into a 5-year-old kid.” He said people can check out his North Pole visit on his YouTube channel.
“Of course, Christmas is my favorite time of the year anyway, but getting to sing with the Oak Ridge Boys makes it a special Christmas this year.”
Lang recently released an album (“Old Soul II”) in which she covers 13 classic songs from decades past. Tracks include “Midnight Train To Georgia,” “Careless Whisper,” “Every Time You Go Away” and a special dance version of “Missing You.”