Coca-Cola's Greatest Hits - 100 Years of Coca-Cola and Music Celebrities

Born in 1872 in Leavenworth, Kansas , singer Hilda Clark became the first celebrity model for The Coca-Cola Company.  Also known as the First Coca-Cola Girl, Hilda's image was used on cardboard signs, tin trays, trade cards, bookmarks, drink tickets, and calendars from 1899 to 1903.

From 1904 to 1905, Lillian Nordica became the new face of Coca-Cola .  Born Lillian Norton in 1857 in Farmington, Maine, Madame Nordica was also a singer who had performed with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, as well as in many major musical venues in Western Europe and Russia.

These early calendars and other promotional items featuring the divas of the time not only launched the popular Coca-Cola Girls advertising platform but Clark and Nordica items had also become some of the greatest hits with vintage Coca-Cola collectors over the years.  Hilda Clark signs from 1901 and Lillian Nordica cardboard signs from 1905 have been valued recently in the five figures. 

Born in 1910 in Calcutta, India, Jessica Dragonette, became the first Coca-Cola Girl to sing on the first radio program sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company in 1927.   Known anonymously as Vivian the Coke Girl, soprano Dragonette sang in the half-hour serial program syndicated on 14 NBC radio stations.   That same year, The Coca-Cola Company also published a song entitled "The Coca-Cola Girl."  The lyric and music were written by Howard E. Way.  

Another song with Coca-Cola in the title but not by The Coca-Cola Company was heard on the radios in America towards the end of World War II.  This popular calypso composed originally by Lord Invader and Lionel Belasco, performed by the Andrew Sisters, climbed to the top of the Billboard in February and March of 1945.   "Rum and Coca-Cola" became the first chart buster celebrating the highball which was first served in 1900 in Havana, Cuba. Also known as Cuba Libre, Rum and Coke gained further popularity after the 1945 hit.  Incidentally, a few months later, the name Coke was registered as a trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office, and The Coca-Cola Company officially recognized and announced that "Coke means Coca-Cola."

The Coca-Cola Company continued to sponsor radio programs including the Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy radio program on CBS in October 1949.   Born in 1903 in Chicago, Illinois, Edgar Bergen, best known as a ventriloquist, was an Academy Award winner and Radio Hall of Fame honoree.  The Charlie McCarthy Show was selected as an honored program in 1990.

The first Coca-Cola television commercial debuted in November 1950 featuring the dynamic duo Bergen and McCarthy.  The following month Coca-Cola sponsored Walt Disney's television premiere on Christmas Day - "One Hour in Wonderland."   Coca-Cola continued television program sponsorships such as the popular Western series "The Adventures of Kit Carson" from 1951-1955 , Disney's "Mickey Mouse Club" on ABC from 1955 to 1957   and the variety show "Coke Time with Eddie Fisher" on NBC from 1953-1957.

By mixing pop music and Coca-Cola on the airwaves in the late 1950s, Coca-Cola's Hi-Fi Club on the Top-40 radio stations in 325 cities across the US attracted 2 million teenage card-carrying members.  Hi-Fi Club members listened to their favorite music on the radio and enjoyed both the biggest hits and Coke at weekly dance parties hosted by the local Coca-Cola bottlers.

The Coca-Cola Company added new jingles which became classic hits on the radio and television in the 1960s.  The McGuire Sisters sang "Really Refreshed"   Miss Oklahoma 1958 Anita Bryant, a popular singer in the 1960s  became the latest Coca-Cola Girl on radio and television from 1964-1967.  Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Roy Orbison, Petula Clark, the Supremes, the Moody Blues, Jay and the Americans, and other popular singers all contributed their renditions of "Things Go Better with Coke."

Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, sang at President Barack Obama's inauguration on January 21, 2009.  She sang for Coca-Cola on radio in 1967 and appeared in her first Coke magazine ad in 1968.

"Things Go Better with Coke" campaign was followed by "It's the Real Thing" in 1969.   This new campaign gave birth to the Coca-Cola's greatest hit of all time - "I'd Like to Buy The World a Coke"  Also known as the Hilltop commercial released in July 1971, the imagery and song resonated with the viewing American public.  Coca-Cola and its bottlers received more than a hundred thousand letters by November that year. It was also one of the most listener requested commercials at the radio stations across the nation. Following the success of the Hilltop commercial, "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" recorded by the New Seekers attained number 1 on the charts in the UK in December 1971 and climbed to #7 in the US.

Another popular hit which climbed to #2 on the country charts in 1973 was "Country Sunshine."  Country singer Dottie West wrote "Country Sunshine" for The Coca-Cola Company in 1973, based on her 1968 hit "Country Girl" which was used in another Coke commercial.  The single released after the commercial also made it to #49 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973.   Glen Campbell, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Reed also recorded jingles for the "Look Up, America" campaign in the 1970s.

Memorable hits from Coca-Cola continued through the 1980s and 1990s with "Have a Coke and a Smile," "Coke is it," "Can't Beat the Feeling," and "Always Coca-Cola."  Singers sang for Coca-Cola included: Blondie, Randy Travis, and Selena. The Diet Coke World Premiere gala commercial was filmed with Hollywood celebrities at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City.  "Just for the Taste of It," Paula Abdul, Elton John, Whitney Houston and the Pointer Sisters all recorded commercials for Diet Coke.

The greatest hit from 1990s would have to be the computer animated "Northern Lights" video for launching the "Always Coca-Cola" campaign in 1993.  Creator Ken Stewart enlisted animation studio Rhythm & Hues and Glenn Rueger of Outside Music to collaborate on these 30-second Polar Bear spots which became instant classics. Ken Stewart got the inspiration for the arctic mascots from his Labrador Retriever which had resembled a polar bear as a puppy.

A Star Search alumna and Mickey Mouse Club Class of 1994 , Christina Aguilera appeared in the Pop the Top Coca-Cola television commercial in 2001.  Pop and R&B singer and song writer Christina dyed her hair red and white for the Coke video.  A century after Hilda Clark, the latest Coca-Cola Girl appeared in life-size posters in thousands of retail outlets across the country, and in full-page ads in large circulation magazines such as People, Rolling Stones, and Entertainment Weekly.  In addition to print, radio, television, in-theater and Internet ads, 50 million packages of Coca-Cola Classic were distributed to promote the chance to meet Christina and go behind the scenes on her music video set.  

In June 2002, Coca-Cola launched the 21st century version of the Fifties Hi-Fi Club on the Internet. was an interactive website featuring streaming radio, music demo creation, music downloads and personalized v-ego avatar characters.   By May 2003, Coke's virtual Hi-Fi Club attracted teens with a passion for music, word of the site had spread by e-mail and Internet chat instead of the radio waves. attracted over a million page views a day, an average growth of over 200,000 unique visitors per month, and average visits lasting longer than 25 minutes.

Partnered with AOL Music, featured eight recording artists each month.  Members could read musician biographies, listen to their music and watch their videos simply from their home computer.  When Coke launched its "Coca-Cola... Real" campaign in January 2003, it first debuted the campaign's signature tune on Members could download "Real Compared to What," by R&B/Hip-Hop artists Mya and Common.  An extended version of the tune was released on Mya's album shortly after the campaign.

With Coke's fountain of taste innovation flowing, we saw the expansion of Coca-Cola flavors with the launch of Vanilla Coke in 2002.  The new Vanilla Coke was launched in New York City at a party hosted by singer Deborah Gibson and joined by MTV personality Brian McFayden and celebrity Nikki Hilton.

In addition to new flavors, Coca-Cola introduced new caloric offerings with the launch of Coke C2 in 2004.  The new mid-calorie cola launch used the Rolling Stones song "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and Queen's "I Want to Break Free."    A year later, Coca-Cola launched Coke Zero with "Chilltop," a remake of the 1971 Hilltop classic.  Instead of the hilltop in Italy, the video was filmed on a rooftop in Philadelphia.    The music was performed by popular artist and Philly native Garrett Dutton III, better known as G. Love.  Getting "Everyone Chill" with Coke Zero in the new Chilltop, G. Love was born in 1972 after the Hilltop hit.

Thirteen years after the first computer animation hit "Northern Lights," Coca-Cola created another hit "Happiness Factory" in 2006 as part of the "Coke Side of Life" campaign.  The ad became the highest rated spot globally and received a Silver Lion at the 2007 Cannes advertising awards.  Coca-Cola followed up with another animated hit aired during Super Bowl Sunday 2007 with "Coca-Cola: Grand Theft Auto."  In this spot, Coca-Cola turned a wildly successful yet violent video game Grand Theft Auto into a heart-warming instant classic for both fans and critics. 

In the age of YouTube, all these popular Coca-Cola videos with animated polar bears and unforgettable music sung on an Italian hilltop could not match the Internet sensation "Diet Coke and Mentos" video which did not originate from The Coca-Cola Company.  Known as the "the Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments," Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz created a backyard experiment with exploding fountains from 200 liters of Diet Coke and 500 Mentos mints.  The video shown on went on to become one of the most watched videos on the Internet.  It won a Webby Award for best viral video in 2007 and was nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding broadband content.

One of the earlier promotions on was a tie-in with a television talent show to win prizes such as the red couches from the show's Coca-Cola red room after its first season.  The new star search show, American Idol, debuted on Fox television network in 2002.  Paula Abdul, who sang for Diet Coke a decade earlier, became a judge on this reality show sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company.

Just as Paula continued to be one of celebrity judges on the show in its eighth season, American Idol continued to reign as the most popular reality television show in America. Coca-Cola also continued to be one of the show's major sponsors.  Coca-Cola's latest "Open Happiness" global campaign aired its television commercial during American Idol on January 21, 2009.

For 110 years from Hilda Clark to American Idol, The Coca-Cola Company has blended popular music and refreshment in harmony through its association of Coke with celebrity performers and the creation of some of the most memorable and greatest hits in beverage history.  After all, wouldn't you like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony?

The Coca-Cola's Greatest Hits was the winner of the The Coca-Cola Collectors Club Membership Newsletter Contest in 2009 and appeared in the July-August 2009 issue of The Coca-Cola Collectors News.