Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Wednesday 25 November |
Saint Catherine of Alexandria
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Did you know "White Christmas" popularized secular Christmas music?

J-P Mauro - published on 12/07/18

Irving Berlin knew he had a hit the moment he finished composing this timeless Christmas classic.

These days it’s almost unremarkable for countless artists to release new Christmas albums each year, but there was a time, not too long ago, when the radio stations didn’t fill the air waves with holiday tunes from Thanksgiving until Christmas day. Christmas music went through a stark evolution in the 20th century, changing from religious carols and hymns to a completely new, secular genre. Many do not know, however, that this is due in large part to the timeless classic, “White Christmas.”

“White Christmas” was written by Irving Berlin, in 1940, for a musical he was developing. Berlin, who was Jewish, did not celebrate Christmas, but he and his wife had lost a child on Christmas Day, so he had a deep sense of the wistful longing the season brings. After staying up all night writing the tune he knew he had a hit and so he called up his secretary and told her:

“Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written—heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!”

The heartwarming song was first performed by Bing Crosby on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas Day, 1941, right after Pearl Harbor and the US entry into World War II. Crosby subsequently recorded the song in only 18 minutes, this was relatively unheard of in a time before 8-track recording and editing. In those days recordings had to be perfect in one take or you had to start all over. Bing didn’t think much of the track at first, commenting, “I don’t think we have any problems with that one, Irving.”


WHITE HOUSE,EASTER EGG,ROLL

Read more:
Check out these amazing, rare photos of the first White House Easter Egg Rolls

At first, the holiday song was overshadowed by the musical Holiday Inn’s first hit song, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.” The following year, however, “White Christmas” topped the charts — driven by the nostalgia of troops separated by war from their loved ones — and established that there could be commercially successful secular Christmas songs.

The tune was such a hit that it even made it to the top of the Harlem Hit Parade, which was the first time that Crosby had made it onto the Black-oriented chart. In a time when racial divides were strong, “White Christmas” proved that Christmas music could thrive in any market and be enjoyed universally. In 1942, after appearing in the musical Holiday Inn, “White Christmas” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Twelve years later, the tune inspired its own musical of the same title, which was the highest grossing film of 1954.

The popularity of “White Christmas” opened the door for the plethora of holiday songs and albums that we enjoy today. Even with all the new seasonal singles, “White Christmas” remains the most popular and has been recorded more than 500 times. Some of the artists who have covered Berlin’s greatest work include Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Michael Bolton, and Bette Midler.

While Crosby’s original remains the standard, we say the best rendition of White Christmas was recorded in 1956 by a band called The Drifters. The arrangement is marked by a change in octave for the second verse and the background vocals give the impression that they were having a great time recording it.

If you think this one isn’t the best, leave a comment and tell us which is your favorite version of “White Christmas.”

Tags:
Christmas
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful...
Luz Ivonne Ream
What’s the secret of this couple’s 64 years o...
Giuseppe Moscati
Larry Peterson
A volcano, a plague, a war: This doctor-saint...
PADRE PIO
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio's favorite prayer of petition
CHRIST THE KING
Edifa
Why do we say that "Christ is King"?
CHRISTMAS AD
Cerith Gardiner
This heartwarming TV ad focuses on what reall...
FATHER RANIERO CANTALAMESSA
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Pope's preacher won't become a bishop though ...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.