May 01, 2008

The Soldier's Christmas Song


“A song you may never have heard. But if you’re a GI you’ve heard it.”
Bob Landers, WNEW NY, 1965

Stan Zabka, songwriter and publisher (Big Island Music, Inc.), is always ready to share a melody and a memory from a lifetime in the entertainment industry, especially the story of how a little-known Christmas song he co-wrote with fellow NBC Page, Don Upton, in 1951 has been labeled, “The Soldier’s Christmas Song.”

Holder of ASCAP, Emmy and Oscar awards, co-writer of “Chimes,” the original Tonight Show, Hallmark Playhouse and other NBC television themes, Stan’s career has twice been interrupted by military service. One of twelve children, he and five of his brothers served overseas during World War II. At war’s end, Zabka finished college, majoring in music and theater arts. Eager to get on with his life, on the night of graduation he hopped a train for New York to pursue a song writing career and landed a job as a page boy at NBC, peddling his tunes in between tours. A year and a half later (1951), just as he was called back into military service during the Korean War, his first song, “Christmas Eve in My Home Town” was published. Shipped to Europe with an NBC unit, Stan later transferred to AFN (American Forces Network) as its military news chief.


(l-r) Stan Zabka (center) with his two sons: Guy Zabka (left), songwriter-producer (Centricity Records), and Billy Zabka, actor-producer-
director (star of Karate Kid)

Zabka knew Eddie Fisher from NBC days. Now a Pfc in the Army, when he came overseas to entertain the troops, Stan got Fisher to record “Christmas Eve in My Home Town” with the Glenn Miller-type German orchestra of Lutz Dietmar. Aired over AFN that year, it became the most requested Christmas song in Europe.

During Viet Nam, it was “Miss God Bless America” herself, Kate Smith, who would record the song for AFN, and through six more wars that would follow, with additional recordings by Bobby Vinton, Jim Nabors and The Living Strings, the song would be written up in The Stars and Stripes and Army Times as, “The GI Christmas Song.”

Paradoxically, during Desert Shield, it was Kate Smith’s treasured rendition and interview with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show that opened the door for AFN to broadcast Western Christmas music to our troops stationed in Muslim countries.

Later, in Iraq, it would become the driving force behind our government’s establishing an actual music-sports-news broadcasting unit in Baghdad, just in time for Christmas, 2003.


Stan Zabka (right) with Johnny Carson
on The Tonight Show

The full story of the song and its history with AFN was told last Christmas, 2007, when the network produced, “The Soldier’s Christmas Song” radio and television specials, broadcasting them to 58 countries around the world and ships at sea, wherever our troops are stationed.

It’s well known that certain artists are identified with certain Christmas songs. To date, with over a dozen recordings, having been printed in countless books and folios along with “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “The Christmas Song,” Zabka feels his song is primed to be covered by a contemporary artist this year, one who might be looking for a “not so well known classic” to make his or her own. He’d love for you to consider “Christmas Eve In My Home Town.”