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Frank Gray

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Long-lost obscure Christmas song gets long-overdue premiere

For most people, Black Friday was two days ago, but for Rob Martinez, Black Friday came about three months ago when he landed the deal to end all deals.

We first wrote about Martinez four years ago, about how every year instead of sending out Christmas cards, he assembles a CD of obscure Christmas songs and distributes them to friends.

Martinez, you see, is probably one of the biggest collectors of Christmas songs in the country. He has thousands – and thousands and thousands – of different recordings of Christmas songs.

Some are songs you’ve never heard of. Some are familiar songs performed by people you’ve never heard of. Some are improbable people singing Christmas songs.

“You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Terry Bradshaw singing ‘Little Drummer Boy,’ ” Martinez jokes.

In that 2009 column, Martinez had two laments. He knew other collectors who had actually wangled their own Christmas shows where they would play obscure works for 24 hours on Christmas Eve. Martinez wished at the time that he could find a radio station that would let him put on a Christmas show – not a 24-hour show, but just three hours or so.

And he wished he had a copy of what he called the holy grail of Christmas songs, something called “St. Nick Visits the White House” by a guy named Vaughn Meader.

The story behind that song is a fascinating one. Vaughn Meader became famous in the early 1960s when he released a couple of “First Family” albums, in which he imitated President John F. Kennedy as part of comic sketches.

Cashing in on the Christmas season in 1963, Meader released a single, “St. Nick Visits the White House,” and waited for the money to roll in.

But then, about the time the record was distributed to stores, Kennedy was assassinated. It would have been in horrid taste to sell a comedy record like that days after the assassination, so the record was frantically recalled and, as far as anyone knows, destroyed.

Meader’s career as a comedian died in a heartbeat, and he faded to obscurity and died in 2004.

Some copies of that Christmas song, though, somehow survived, and it has long been Martinez’s dream of someday owning a copy.

Two years ago, Martinez got his first wish. He had become a volunteer at WBOI 89.1 FM and was approached by the program manager about producing a Christmas show. He produced two two-hour shows in 2011 and three shows in 2012. This year, he will have three shows, from 8 to 11 p.m. Dec. 20 and from 8 to 10 p.m. Dec. 23 and 24.

Meanwhile, in August, Martinez got his second wish. He actually found his own copy of “St. Nick Visits the White House.”

“I wanted to find it to preserve it and to make people aware of it,” Martinez said.

And on the show Dec. 23, Martinez will make what he believes is the world premiere broadcast of that almost mythical Christmas song, a song he can almost guarantee no one has ever heard.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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