December 7, 2014
This time of year makes us nostalgic. We prepare our Thanksgiving Day dinner while high school bands march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We root for an angel to lift James Stewart out of despair in It’s a Wonderful Life. We listen to “White Christmas” again and again and again.
Bing Crosby first sang the Irving Berlin song on his radio show in 1941 and then in the 1942 musical Holiday Inn for which it was written. It topped the charts that October and stayed there for eleven weeks. Over the years its estimated sales are over fifty million copies worldwide.
The over five hundred versions of the song since recorded by various artists around the world account for another fifty million plus copies sold. Before the decade was out Frank Sinatra, Kay Thompson, Jo Stafford, and Perry Como gave the song their own special spin.
In the fifties the Drifters, Eddie Fisher, Johnny Mathis, Dean Martin, and Ella Fitzgerald chimed in. Both Frank Sinatra and Perry Como again recorded the song, but not together. Elvis put the song on his first holiday album in 1957.
There are instrumental versions by Mantovani and His Orchestra (1952) and Kenny G (1994), as well as sing alongs. In 1961 on the cover to his holiday album, Mitch Miller didn’t print the song’s lyrics, but rather this disclaimer: “The publisher assumes everyone knows the lyrics to this song!”
The song knows no genre. Neil Diamond (1992) recorded a doo-wop version. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton (1984) harmonized on Once Upon a Christmas. Country and Western singers, Garth Brooks (1992), Martina McBride (1998), Taylor Swift (2007), Blake Shelton (2012), and Kelly Clarkson (2013) among others, have made it part of their holiday repertoire. So, too, did Motown with The Supremes (1965), boy bands, including New Kids on the Block (1989), and female performers from Barbra Streisand (1967) to Diane Krall (2005). Lady Gaga added a verse when she recorded it for A Very Gaga Holiday (2011), which goes like this:
I’m dreaming of a white Snowman
With the carrot nose and charcoal eyes.
And, oh when he cries, I’m gonna tell him
Because Santa’s on his sleigh and on his way.
Conversely, most recordings drop Berlin’s opening verse:
The sun is shining,
The grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.
There’s never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, L.A.
Both California’s La Quinta Hotel and the Arizona Biltmore claim Berlin wrote his popular song while at their resort. It makes sense that only someone sitting poolside misses the snow and cold while the rest of us shovel our driveways so we can make it to Grandma’s for pudding and pumpkin pie.
© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved