The holiday musical season would not be complete without The Nutcracker and The Little Drummer Boy. This is probably sacrilegious, but I must confess, I don’t really care for The Little Drummer Boy. I’m sure it’s from having to sing it every year in school Christmas programs…back when classes sang Christmas carols at the elementary school Christmas program. That really dates me!
I do know that it is a favorite carol across all ages. My granddaughters love to sing it and tell the the story of the little drummer. The last church I served, always had a program during Advent. Besides all of the tasty treats, the highlight was singing carols. The little old ladies and homeless always requested The Little Drummer Boy. No, it’s not in any hymnal. That’s probably why everyone seems to know it!
So I was curious about this song’s origins. I was shocked when I looked it up in Wikipedia. It’s a relatively recent carol, written in 1941 by pianist and composer Katherine Davis. It was popularized by various recordings in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Little did I know we were singing a new-ish song in second grade!
It’s always interesting to learn how many or what songs are based on some folk melody or classical riff. I think of Carlos Santana’s Love of My Life that’s based on Brahms Symphony #3. Well, The Little Drummer Boy is based on a traditional Czech carol. The story that was it’s inspiration is from 12th century legend and Jules Massenet adapted the legend into an opera in 1902.
The lasting testimony of this song’s popularity is evidenced in the over 220 versions in at least seven languages that this song has been recorded. Everyone, and I mean just about everyone, from the Trapp Family Singers, to Bob Dylan, to the Black Eyed-Peas, and beyond have recorded it!
Bing Crosby and David Bowie (now that’s an interesting combination) introduced us to The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth during Bing Crosby’s last televised Christmas show. Out of all the versions I’ve heard this holiday season, it’s the one I like the most. I’m partial to The Three Priests and Shane MacGowan version. The counterpoint of Peace on Earth adds interest and depth to the song’s overall message.
I may have a greater appreciation to the mass appeal of The Little Drummer Boy. That’s what’s so great about music. Between a melody or a message or an arrangement, there’s usually something for everyone that strikes a chord and warms the heart.