Listen: Julie Benko Releases Holiday EP 'Christmas With You' and New Music Video!

A new music video for the title track, “(I Never Had a) Christmas with You,” has also been released!

By: Dec. 01, 2023

Christmas with You – the debut holiday EP from breakout Broadway star Julie Benko – is available in digital and streaming formats today, Friday, December 1. After skyrocketing to fame as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl on Broadway last season, Julie has returned to the New York stage in Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman’s highly anticipated musical Harmony, currently running at the Barrymore Theatre.

A new music video for the title track, “(I Never Had a) Christmas with You,” has also been released and can be viewed below!

Christmas with You is produced by Julie Benko and Jason Yeager, with arrangements by Jason Yeager. Stream the EP below!

This season, Benko joins the ranks of many great Jewish vocalists before her, releasing Christmas with You. The 4-track collection opens with a festive and swinging new version of “The Man with the Bag,” which was recently added to the  Spotify “New Music Holiday” playlist. Julie comments, “Christmas is the one time of year where even people who don’t think they like ‘jazz’ love jazz. We are tricking people into liking jazz! My husband and collaborator Jason Yeager created this arrangement for our holiday concert last year at 54 Below and we built on it for this recording, adding the modulation and all the horn parts. I have always loved Kay Starr’s classic recording, as well as Jane Monheit’s version. It’s a holiday song that doesn’t feel completely overplayed, overcovered, and overdone. The Kay Starr version is iconic, of course, but it leaves room for other artists to put their own stamp on the song.”

The charming music video, which was released last week, features Benko and her merry band as animated figures, rendered by Italian artist Sara Soncini. “I wanted to create a classic for a new generation that evokes the magic of waking up on Christmas morning,” Julie says. “I hope this video delights Christmas lovers everywhere and inspires young people to embrace jazz.” 

The second song, the EP’s title track, “(I Never Had a) Christmas with You,” is an original retro-soul tune penned by Benko, which is also a joyous duet with Grammy Award-nominated singer Mykal Kilgore.  “It was so wonderful to collaborate with Mykal,” Julie added. “He’s a brilliant musician and had great ideas for shaping the song. He’s a storyteller, so he approaches the work as an actor, like I do. This song is about experiencing Christmas with Jason for the first time. I grew up without celebrating Christmas at home — we did Chanukah, of course. So when we got together, I was able to experience the magic of the holiday in a big way. I never truly felt inside the holiday until I was invited into Jason’s family. I think that’s a pretty universal feeling, the discovery of something magical about Christmas after finding love.”

The classic Ukrainian-Yiddish folk song “Tumbalalaika” follows, just in time for Chanukah. “I didn’t initially know the song, unlike many of my Jewish friends,” Julie explains. “But the response was overwhelming when we started performing it. It reminds me of ‘People’ from Funny Girl in the way that everyone seems to have a deep connection to it that binds them to those in their past. People told me things like, ‘You made my grandmother come alive again, thank you,’ or ‘My father used to sing this song to me as a baby and I never knew what it meant.’ It’s got such a catchy and easy chorus that everyone feels like they can sing along after hearing it once. It does exactly what music is supposed to do: bring us together and make us feel joy. And Jason and me being who we are, we decided to infuse it with the music of our favorite city — New Orleans — ultimately creating a track that sounds like a combination of Klezmer and New Orleans gumbo. It feels like a party, and it feels like us.”

Christmas with You wraps with an intimate new take on the beloved seasonal standard “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Julie reflects, “I grew up with Meet Me in St. Louis. It’s one of my favorite movies – I can still quote the entire thing verbatim – and Judy Garland is my all-time favorite performer. When I was in high school, I played Esther, Judy’s role. So I’ve been singing this song since I was still a kid in my hometown. The girl who played Tootie, Kathryn Laudadio, was so sweet and generous in this scene, and sharing this moment with her meant a lot. She tragically passed away a few years later. So whenever I sing this song, I dedicate it to her memory.”

She concludes, “Playing as a duo with Jason like this is always very special. There’s an intimacy within the musical conversation that just feels like we’re the only two people in the world. And I honestly feel that, when things are hard, when I’m playing music with Jason those problems fall away, if only briefly. This album embraces musical traditions that come from across the world. At a time of year when the world especially yearns for peace on Earth, I hope listeners will find some comfort and inspiration in the joy, peace, and spirit of empathetic collaboration that we as musicians felt while recording this music.”

 

Julie Benko is an actor, singer, and writer based in New York City. She recently marched her band out on Broadway as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, joining the annals of theatrical lore for her sensational understudy-to-star trajectory in the show. Between her tenure as the standby, alternate, and full-time Fanny, she played the role over 180 times and received numerous accolades for her interpretation, including Theatre World’s Dorothy Loudon Award for Excellence in the Theatre. She was also called the 2022 “Breakout Star for Theater” in The New York Times, named among “10 Broadway Stars to Watch for 2023” by Variety, honored as one of “40 Under 40” for Crain’s New York Business, hailed by CBS Mornings as “Broadway’s breakout star,” and profiled in numerous national media outlets such as The New York Times and Time. This fall, she is originating her first role on Broadway, playing Ruth in the long-gestating Barry Manilow/Bruce Sussman musical Harmony.

Her recent album Hand in Hand (Club44 Records), a duo effort with her pianist-composer spouse Jason Yeager, won the BroadwayWorld Cabaret Award for “Best Commercial Album” and received a MAC Award nomination for “Best Major Album.” Her debut jazz album is Introducing Julie Benko. She has played leading roles in many Off-Broadway and regional productions and enjoys a vibrant concert career, having headlined sold-out shows at Birdland, 54 Below, and many other venues around the country. She won first prize and the Johnny Mercer Award in the national American Traditions Vocal Competition and holds a BFA in Drama and an MFA in Acting (yes, both) from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. As a writer, Julie has worked across mediums. In 2020, she wrote, directed, and starred in her first short, The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy, which has won praise in numerous international festivals. Her first full-length play, The District, was named a semifinalist at the 2022 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. JulieBenko.com. Instagram/TikTok @JujujulieBee



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