A HISTORY OF
A WINTER'S SOLSTICE
Windham Hill was growing by leaps and bounds by 1984. Only a few years earlier, in an attempt to lighten the workload at their Palo Alto offices, Anne Robinson and William Ackerman, owners of Windham Hill Records, decided to create a Sampler of annual catalog offerings in one compilation album, featuring their artists and their albums from over the past year or two. These Samplers (starting with Windham Hill Sampler '81) proved to be very popular not only with marketers, radio and journalists, but with the label's end customers as well. Says Ackerman:
"The only reason I came up with the Windham Hill Samplers was that I got tired of using the hole punch to punch the corners of the promotional copies of records that were going to stores or to radio stations…. I came up with the idea that if I took one track of each one of these people and put it on an LP then all I have to do is punch one hole. I’m now punching one-twelfth the holes that I used to. It was literally that utilitarian. I sent this to my distributors and everyone said, “Why don’t we market this?” Everyone said there are other labels that have done this. Warner Brothers did it. Reprise did it. They were never big sellers but it did introduce people to music. So I said “Fine. Let’s give it a try.” Every single Windham Hill Sampler became a Gold or Platinum record. We sold millions of these things."
Continuing off this popular format, Ackerman and executive Dawn Atkinson decided to begin producing Holiday-themed albums featuring the Label's artists. Starting as an experiment in 1985, Ackerman and Atkinson combined both original solicitations from their favorite Label artists as well as pre-recorded tracks from Windham Hill current catalog. Instead of reflecting a strictly "Christmas" repertoire, Ackerman and Atkinson allowed original compositions, covers of 19th and 18th Century Classical work, and the more traditional Christmas tracks. In doing so the album combined a unique and eclectic mix of original compositions and arrangements, but carried a familiar and distinct musical flavor, captivating audiences and creating an ever-more popular formula for Holiday music.
A Winter's Solstice eventually spun off into multiple Holiday-themed albums for the label, with Jazz, Rock, Pop, Folk and singer-songwriter styles emerging on the Windham Hill label. At the heart of the label's albums remained, however, the Windham Hill Winter's Solstice records, featuring the label's most revered artists and their captivating arrangements and performances.
The Winter Solstice collection, like many Windham Hill projects, began as a small and experimental project and grew into a massive business for the label. Though only 3 albums were released during the label's independent years, 21 more were released while owned by BMG and Sony. The timeline above shows the perspective of albums released. BMG seemingly loved the model, as they churned out 16 albums during their tenure of owning the record, nearly 70% of the total Holiday collection.
As BMG expanded the repertoire and brought in artists from sister labels, the brand began to lose direction and voice, and in 2001 BMG decided to pull back and allow Dawn Atkinson to take the music back to basics. Though the last four Windham Hill Holiday Records are titled "Windham Hill Christmas" they are in many respects the same artistic idea behind the original Winter's Solstice compilations.
The Holiday Collection: By The Numbers
The Top 10 Winter's Solstice/Christmas Artists
(in number of albums featured)
Liz Story - 14
Will Ackerman - 13
Jim Brickman - 12
George Winston - 11
Paul McCandless - 10
Barbara Higbie - 10
Nightnoise - 9
Steve Erquiaga - 9
Tim Story - 8
Phil Aaberg - 8
The Top 9 Celtic Christmas Artists
(in number of albums featured)
Nighnoise - 6
Jeff Johnson, Brian Dunning - 6
Maighread Ni Dohmhnaill - 6
Michael O Domhnaill - 6
Triona Ni Dohmhnaill - 6
Phil Cunningham - 5
Lisa Lynne - 3
Liam O'Flynn - 3
WG "Snuffy" Walden - 3
A Winter's Solstice was released in 1985 and certified RIAA Gold in 1987
A Winter's Solstice II was released in 1988 and certified RIAA Gold in 1990
A Winter's Solstice III was released in 1990 and certified RIAA Gold in 1994
A Winter's Solstice IV was released in 1993 and certified RIAA Gold in 1995
Three artists are featured on both A Winter's Solstice (first album) and The Night Before Christmas (last album):
Liz Story, Phil Aaberg, Will Ackerman
Honorable mentions should also go to Fred Simon, Barbara Higbie & Paul McCandless, featured on both Winter's Solstice II as well as The Night Before Christmas.
Questions or corrections? Please contact me, I will try to get back as soon as I can.