Christmas music through the decades – the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s

Here is part two of an article I shared with you last week about the history of Christmas songs! Enjoy!

Missed part one? Read it here

The first installment of this Christmas music retrospective looked at the origins of some of the most enduring religious and traditional Christmas carols, from centuries past all the way up through the 1930s. By the 1930s, secular tunes like “Jingle Bells,” “Up on the Housetop,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” were already becoming holiday favorites.

In addition to “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” which was written in 1934, the 1930s produced two holiday classics that celebrate the winter season – “Winter Wonderland” (1934) and “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” (1937).

“Winter Wonderland” was a hit from the start, but it took more than ten years for “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” to hit the Top-10. The song was written byIrving Berlin for the 1937 film “On the Avenue” and performed by stars Dick Powell and Alice Faye in the film. Les Brown’s instrumental hit version was recorded in 1946, but didn’t become a million-selling Top-10 hit until 1948.


That “late bloomer” phenomenon has been repeated by other Christmas songs over the years. “The Little Drummer Boy,” originally titled “Carol of the Drum” was written in 1941 by American classical music composer and teacher Katherine K. Davis. It was first recorded (under its original title) in 1955 by the Trapp Family Singers (the family chronicled in the film “The Sound of Music”).

In 1958 the Harry Simeone Choralerecorded the song with a slightly different arrangement as “The Little Drummer Boy” for the album Sing We Now of Christmas. The album and the song were both huge hits, with the single appearing regularly on theholiday music charts from 1958 to 1962. Simeone would re-record the song in 1965, and again in 1981.

Similarly, “Blue Christmas,” the song that would eventually be forever linked to Elvis Presley, was written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson in 1948. It became a hit for country singerErnest Tubb in 1949.

Presley recorded “Blue Christmas” for his 1957 release, Elvis’ Christmas Album. The arrangement and tone of the song is radically different than Tubb’s country version. Wanting to emphasize the “blues” aspect of the song, Elvis also deleted the song’s original third verse, which makes references to Christmas Eve prayers:

I’ll have a blue Christmas I know, dear /
I hope your white Christmas brings you cheer /
And when you say your prayers on this Christmas Eve /
Will you feel the same dear as when you prayed with me?”

The album went on to become the best-selling Christmas/holiday album of all time in the United States, to date having sold over 13 million copies. No United States singles were issued from the album until 1964, when “Blue Christmas” was finally released and reached the top of the Billboard Christmas Singles chart.


The 1940s produced a number of other bona fide Christmas classics, including “White Christmas” (1942), “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (1943), “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (1944), “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” (1946), “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (1949), and “Here Comes Santa Claus” (1947).

Seasonal favorites “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (1944), “Let It Snow” (1945), and the instrumental version of “Sleigh Ride” (1949 – the lyrics were written a year later) originated in the 1940s. Other memorable holiday songs written in the ’40s include the R&B standard “Merry Christmas, Baby” (1947), the New Year’s anthem, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” (1947), and the novelty tunes “All I Want for Christmas (is My Two Front Teeth)” (1948) and “Mele Kalikimaka” (1949).

The original article was published here.


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