Dylan Thomas reading A Child's Christmas in Wales
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Dylan Thomas – A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Caedmon Records, a pioneer in the audiobook business, was the first company dedicated to selling spoken word recordings to the public. Formed in New York in 1952 by college graduates Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Roney, their first release was a collection of poems by Dylan Thomas as read by the author.  It was the B-side of that recording – A Child’s Christmas in Wales – that launched Caedmon and proved the commercial viability of audiobooks.

Holdridge and Roney were best friend. They had just graduated from college and were seeking a way into the record business, dominated, as was pretty much all business at the time, by men. Hearing that Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was due to give a public reading at New York’s 92nd Street Y, they decided to record him. When turned away at the Y by a snobby usher, they sent a note with their first initials and last names, so that Thomas “would have no inkling that we were women,” Holdridge recalled in an interview. “Little did we know he would have been extremely interested if he had known that we were young and unmarried.”

After several attempts to contact Thomas, they were able to get in touch and he agreed to record with them. By that time, Thomas was as well known for his drinking as he was for his exquisite poetry, but, several missed recording sessions later, he did finally show-up with a handfull of poems. Just not enough to fill a long-playing record – a near catastrophe, as they needed a B-side, or they wouldn’t be able to put out the record. When asked if he had anything else they could record to fill the B-side, he recalled a poem he’d published in Harper’s Bazaar, a Christmas story, but not it’s title. This was, of course, A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

Thus, out of near calamity arose this wonderful recording, which is still as compelling today as it was when first recorded. Holdridge describes the Thomas recording as a “momentous” experience. “We had no idea of the power and beauty of this voice. We just expected a poet with a poet’s voice, but this was a full orchestral voice.” In 2008, the United States National Recording Registry selected it for inclusion, stating it is “credited with launching the audiobook industry in the United States.” It also launched Caedmon Records, today a part of HarperCollins.

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