"White Christmas" is a Christmas song written by Irving Berlin, reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the version sung by Bing Crosby is the best-selling single of all time, with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide.
Accounts vary as to when and where Berlin wrote the song. One story is that he wrote it in 1940, poolside at the Biltmore hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. He often stayed up all night writing — he told Norman Wisdom, who added to the lyrics and claimed co-authorship, "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 first public performance of the song was also by Crosby, on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas Day, 1941 and the recording is not believed to have survived. He recorded it with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers for Decca Records in just 18 minutes on May 29, 1942, and it was released on July 30 as part of an album of six 78-rpm songs from the film Holiday Inn. At first, Crosby did not see anything special about it. He just said "I don't think we have any problems with that one, Irving."
Bing Crosby version
The song initially performed poorly and was overshadowed by the film's first hit song: "Be Careful, It's my Heart". By the end of October 1942, however, it topped the "Your Hit Parade" chart. It remained in that position until well into the new year. (It has often been noted that the mix of melancholy — "just like the ones I used to know" — with comforting images of home — "where the treetops glisten" — resonated especially strongly with listeners during World War II. The Armed Forces Network was flooded with requests for the song.)
In 1942 alone, Crosby's recording spent eleven weeks on top of the Billboard charts. The original version also hit number one on the Harlem Hit Parade for three weeks, Crosby's first-ever appearance on the black-oriented chart. Re-released by Decca, the single returned to the #1 spot during the holiday seasons of 1945 and 1946 (on the chart dated January 4, 1947), thus becoming the only single with three separate runs at the top of the U.S. charts. The recording became a chart perennial, reappearing annually on the pop chart twenty separate times before Billboard Magazine created a distinct Christmas chart for seasonal releases.
Following its prominence in Holiday Inn, the song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. In the film, Bing Crosby sang it as a duet with actress Marjorie Reynolds, though her voice was dubbed by Martha Mears. This now-familiar scene was not the moviemakers' initial plan; in the script as originally conceived, Reynolds, not Crosby, was to sing it.
The familiar version of the song most often heard today is not the one Crosby recorded in 1942. He was called to Decca studios on March 18, 1947, to re-record the track; the 1942 master had become damaged due to its frequent use. Efforts were made to exactly reproduce the original recording session, and Crosby was again backed by the Trotter Orchestra and the Darby Singers. Even so, there are subtle differences in the orchestration, most notably the addition of a celesta and flutes to brighten up the introduction.
Crosby was dismissive of his role in the song's success, saying later that "a jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully." But Crosby was associated with it for the rest of his career. Another Crosby vehicle — the 1954 musical White Christmas — was the highest-grossing film of 1954.
Eddie Fisher with Hugo Winterhalter's orchestra & chorus recorded the song at Manhattan Center, New York City, on July 15, 1952. It was released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-4910 (in USA) and by EMI on the His Master's Voice label as catalog number B 10779 and JO 420.
The Drifters' 1954 cover of the song showcased the talents of lead singer Clyde McPhatter and the bass of Bill Pinkney. Their recording of it peaked at #2 on Billboard’s R&B chart in December 1954, and returned to the same chart in the next two years. In December 1955, it became the Drifters' first of 34 singles to register in the mainstream Hot 100 chart. For decades, the Drifters' version was primarily heard on R&B radio stations, getting little exposure elsewhere. It received a boost in the early 1990s, when it was prominently featured in the film Home Alone during a scene in which Kevin, the lead character, is applying his father's aftershave while mouthing the lyrics. Radio stations formats as diverse as oldies, adult contemporary, Top 40, and country began playing the Drifters' version. It was later featured in the film The Santa Clause .
Andy Williams charted on the Christmas Singles chart in 1963 (#1) and 1967 (#22) with his version. The B-Side was his version of The Christmas Song.
Michael Bolton covered the song on his 1992 album Timeless: The Classics.
In 2000, Linda Ronstadt recorded the song for A Merry Little Christmas.
Appearances in Christmas specials
- Holiday Inn
- White Christmas
- The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow
- Home Alone
- The Santa Clause
- I'll Be Home For Christmas
- "Yes, Mikey, Santa Does Shave"
- Prancer Returns
- The Polar Express (2004) - The song is heard in the background when the kids find Billy the Lonely Boy's present which has the tag saying "Do not open until Christmas", in Santa's very huge load of presents. The song is cut out when the buzzer starts heading.
- "Glee, Actually"
- Christmas with the Chipmunks (1961)
- Merry Christmas from Sesame Street (1975) - Featured as part of a medley of songs.
- A Sesame Street Christmas (1995) - Featured as part of a medley of songs.
- Christmas at Home (2001)
- The Polar Express (2004)
- Bob! from Sesame Street: Christmas Sing Along (2006)
- Chipmunks Christmas (2012)
- Glee: The Music, the Christmas Album Volume 3 (2012)
- A Pentatonix Christmas (2016)
- 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.
- But it's December the twenty-fourth
- And I am longing to be up north
- I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
- Just like the ones I used to know
- Where the treetops glisten and children listen
- To hear sleigh bells in the snow
- I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
- With every Christmas card I write
- May your days be merry and bright
- And may all your Christmases be white
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