Millie Kirkham had an unearthly high soprano voice, and recorded with some of the biggest stars of her era (and other eras and ours). Perhaps most famously, she provided the swoopy woozy soprano part on Elvis’ original recording of “Blue Christmas” in 1957.
Kirkham had appeared on songs recorded by Carl Perkins, Patsy Kline, Chet Atkins, Bob Dylan, need I go on? She sang on Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet”, Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over,” and Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry,” to name just a few. She was an in-demand backup singer. Her contribution to Ferlin Husky’s song, “Gone” is unmistakeable. I don’t need to tell you to listen for her. She’s obvious.
Elvis heard “Gone”, and fell in love with her voice. When he was planning his Christmas album in 1957, he said, “Get me that woman on Ferlin’s song.” He had a vision in his head of what he wanted for “Blue Christmas” (Jerry Schilling, in his wonderful book, said that Elvis has never gotten proper credit for being a wonderful producer. He knew what he wanted, he know how he heard the song, he knew how to put the right people together to make it come out. The image of him as some dummy just doing what he was told is incorrect.)
Millie Kirkham was pregnant when she sang her part on “Blue Christmas”, and it was her first time recording with Elvis. She showed up at RCA’s Studio B in Nashville. Elvis was not expecting a pregnant woman to stroll into the studio and it took him aback. Kirkham tells the story:
When we were doing the Elvis Christmas album I was six months pregnant the time with my daughter at the time. So still I kid her and tell her she was at the very first recording session I did with Elvis but that she just doesn’t remember it! Elvis looked a little surprised when I came in and said, “Please someone get this woman a chair!” when he saw me.
Several months later when I was doing another recording session with Elvis and I came in – and at that time I thought I was looking pretty slim and trim – I came strolling in and Elvis asked, “Did you ever have that baby?!” He had a great sense of humour, he was a funny guy.
The day of the second recording session, she happened to have a camera with her. There was one shot left. She and the Jordannaires – they had all worked together elsewhere – gathered to take their picture together, and Elvis popped over, saying, “Let me be in it.”
She sang with Elvis on many of his recordings and was a featured part of his live shows in the early 1970s.
“People are always asking me if I thought Elvis was a handsome man and my answer is ‘I am not blind you know’!”
Here Kirkham is, reminiscing about her career. It’s long, but well worth it. The stories she tells!
In the interview, she says of the phenomenal eternal success of “Blue Christmas”: “If I was gettin’ royalties, I’d be a rich old woman.”