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Recommended listening: Louis Armstrong's 'The Night Before Christmas'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Certain Christmas recordings come on the radio year after year after year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CHRISTMAS SONG")

NAT KING COLE: (Singing) Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO TOWN")

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Santa Claus is comin' to town.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU")

MARIAH CAREY: (Singing) All I want for Christmas is you.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now one man wants to add another classic to the list.

(SOUNDBITE OF POEM, "THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS")

LOUIS ARMSTRONG: 'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

INSKEEP: Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, with that unmistakable voice, recited "The Night Before Christmas" back in 1971.

DANNY FREEDMAN: This was Louis Armstrong's final commercial recording.

MARTIN: Freelance journalist Danny Freedman wrote an article for Smithsonian Magazine. He proposed that Armstrong's reading should be one of those recordings that's heard every year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ARMSTRONG: This is Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong talking to all the kids from all over the world.

FREEDMAN: Louis Armstrong loved kids, and he loved to entertain. And this was a natural fit. It's a little 45 rpm record, and there were a million of these records given away with the purchase of a carton of cigarettes.

(SOUNDBITE OF POEM, "THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS")

ARMSTRONG: The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

FREEDMAN: Louis Armstrong was an extremely influential trumpeter in the early part of the 1900s and known for his feats on the trumpet. He was a real acrobat in the upper register. But more than that, his musical ideas broke the mold.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG SONG, "COOL YULE")

FREEDMAN: Then, later career, he became this humble colossus. He was a huge cultural icon. In fact, he unseated the Beatles from the No. 1 spot in 1964 with a show tune, "Hello, Dolly!"

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO, DOLLY!")

ARMSTRONG: (Singing) Hello, Dolly. This is Louis, Dolly. It's...

FREEDMAN: Beyond the horn playing, beyond the singing, there's also Louis Armstrong the storyteller. There's this part where he says - and you have to forgive the imitation. But he says, when out on the lawn, there arose such a clattuh (ph). Instead of clatter, he says clattuh. And then he rhymes it with - and I went to the window to see what was the mattuh (ph). It makes me smile every time.

(SOUNDBITE OF POEM, "THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS")

ARMSTRONG: When out on the lawn, there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

FREEDMAN: There's a quality of real, genuine joy to it. It was his onstage persona. But as folks told me, this was who he was offstage, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF POEM, "THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS")

ARMSTRONG: He had a broad face and a little round belly that shook when he laughed, like a bowl of jelly (laughter).

FREEDMAN: It's not saccharine. It's just sweet in a genuine kind of way. It's something I have enjoyed for years. And I was raised Jewish, and it's a classic in my house. And I hope more people take a listen to it and can appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF POEM, "THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS")

ARMSTRONG: Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night - a very good night.

And that goes for Satchmo, too (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG SONG, "JINGLE BELLS (ARMSTRONG'S VERSION)")

INSKEEP: Danny Freedman's article on Louis Armstrong and "The Night Before Christmas" is in Smithsonian Magazine.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG SONG, "JINGLE BELLS (ARMSTRONG'S VERSION)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.