But do you know the unlikely source of a number of our contemporary classics?
A while back, in preparation for a holiday show I was playing, I did some research on the origin of many of the well-known Yuletide tunes. As a songwriter, I was interested in who was credited for these works.
Several of these songs date back hundreds of years such as “Joy to the World” (lyrics by Isaac Watts, melody by Lowell Mason) in 1719.
But several modern Christmas carols were written by someone whose religious heritage precludes the celebration of Christmas – Johnny Marks.
Marks, who was Jewish, wrote “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and “Run, Rudolph, Run.”
The songs of the late, great Marks became hits for such artists as Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee, Burl Ives, Gene Autry and Chuck Berry.
As for the originators of other popular tunes:
- “Silent Night” was reportedly written in Austria in 1818 on Christmas Eve. Its lyrics come from a poem written by Joseph Mohr. Franz Gruber contributed the music.
- The author of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is not known, but the tune is believed to date back as far as the 1400s.
- “Away in a Manger” was first published in 1885 in Philadelphia.
- “Jingle Bells” was written by James Pierpont in 1857 as a Thanksgiving song.
- “O Holy Night,” dates back to the 19th Century. The lyrics, originally in French, were written by Placide Cappeau. Adolphe Adam provided the melody.
- Based on an old carol from Czechoslovakia, the “Little Drummer Boy” is credited to Katherine K. Davis who wrote the song in 1941.
- “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town” was written in 1932 by Haven Gillespies (lyrics) and John Frederick Coots (music).
· “Blue Christmas” made its debut in 1948. It was penned by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, but it wasn’t Elvis Presley who sang it first. That honor goes to country music star Ernest Tubb.
· “I'll Be Home for Christmas” was one of America’s most popular Christmas songs in 1943. It had three authors, Buck Ram, Kim Gannon and Walter Kent.