Who sang this song White Christmas

WHITE CHRISTMAS is a song produced in 1942 by Irving Berlin, which, when interpreted by Bing Crosby, is one of the best-selling recordings and has been covered countless times.

 

I. History of origin

The song was first written down in 1940. Irving Berlin (1888–1989), who could not read or write music himself, dictated the song to his secretary Helmy Kresa. When and where Berlin wrote the song is unknown; he himself has told various stories about it. Possibly the song was originally for the stage show The Crystal Ball in any case, a typescript from Berlin from 1938 has been preserved, which provides the title WHITE CHRISTMAS as the final number of the first act.

At Christmas 1941, the internationally successful crooner Bing Crosby (1903-1977) sang the song on the NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall. For the broad and long-lasting reception, however, was the integration into the music film Holiday Inn (USA 1942) decisive. Berlin insisted on Crosby's commitment to this film, the song WHITE CHRISTMAS should play a central role in it. In the film, Crosby acts together with the actress Marjorie Reynolds, but the female vocal part was dubbed by Martha Mears. In Germany, the film was only released under the title in 1947 after the end of World War II Music music in the cinemas.

On May 29, 1942, the song was recorded again with the John Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers, this time for an album with six 78-rpm records as an accompanying publication for the film mentioned Holiday Inn. Released in July, the song began to enjoy commercial success in September of the same year, and the sheet music edition (for voice and piano; Irving Berlin Music Company, New York) also met with huge sales. By Christmas 1942, one million sheet music editions and two million records are said to have sold. Also in 1942, WHITE CHRISTMAS achieved the top spot in the for eleven weeks Billboard charts ("Best Selling Singles"); the song also won the 1943 Academy Award ("Oscar") for the best movie song.

In March 1947, WHITE CHRISTMAS was recorded again and with the same cast - the original press die was worn out due to the high demand. The recording differs only slightly from the single from 1942, for example in the nuances of interpretation in the vocal performance. This post-war recording became the most powerful and was reprinted many times. The 1942 version was not published again until 1998.

 

II. Context

The song WHITE CHRISTMAS has to be classified on the one hand in the development of the American Christmas culture, on the other hand in the new socio-political situation that arose when the USA entered the Second World War.

In the 1930s, Christmas in the United States experienced a secular orientation that combined a family and emotional celebration culture with a consumer orientation. The advertising figure of "Santa Claus", which has been used by the beverage manufacturer Coca Cola since 1931, is symbolic of this. The entertainment culture also discovered Christmas as a subject - the first Christmas films were made, for example A Christmas Carol after Charles Dickens, USA 1938. As an early example of a secular Christmas carol Winter wonderland from 1934 can be cited. These then new hits no longer commemorated the birth of Christ like the traditional songs, but created wintery moods with images of nature.

WHITE CHRISTMAS is one of the early products of this secular Christmas culture. It is noteworthy that although these songs are largely de-Christianized or at least de-churched, certain emotions such as love, peace or experiences of nature come to the fore with a lot of pathos and sometimes religious emphasis. With regard to the idealized images of a rural past and the nostalgic moods, these artefacts were shaped by a paradox: “It was modern, metropolitan, mass media products that sold the holiday as a retreat from and as an accusation against the high-tech urban modernity - quite a bit clever sales pitch ”(Rosen 2003: 173). This also applies to Berlin's WHITE CHRISTMAS, which, as a modern product of urban entertainment culture, nostalgically reminds of one's own childhood and describes ideal landscapes (equipped with horse-drawn sleighs). The sung "white" Christmas or the snow are not only to be understood as romantic images of nature, but also as symbols for innocence, purity and peace.

Based on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Hawaii) at the end of 1941 and the resulting entry into the war by the USA, the context of the song's reception quickly changed. The soldiers who fought in Europe, for example, got to know WHITE CHRISTMAS through radio broadcasts, jukeboxes and gramophones. The sentimental, wistful text corresponded to the feelings of those fighting abroad. In particular, the situation of writing Christmas cards could be incorporated into one's own world of experience: the soldiers could think of the people who gave them good wishes. Irving Berlin is said to have even considered adding a specially written war stanza to the song. Bing Crosby traveled to overseas troops and performed his song year round. It is also guaranteed that the text was changed to "I'm praying for a white Christmas" during a performance by another singer (cf. Rosen 2003: 164), which underlines the soldiers' longing for peace. The war continued the secularization tendencies of the Christmas festival, politically, in particular, the receding of denominational differences in favor of a nationalization of the festival was desired.

Jody Rosen rightly points out (2003: 124f.) That WHITE CHRISTMAS should not only be understood as a Christmas carol, but also as a home song. This genre had a special charisma in the USA because it represented a “land of the uprooted and nomads”, and “homesickness” was, as it were, the “American disease in general”, according to his theory. Berlin's song follows this Heimatlied tradition, taking into account all conventions of the genre, such as “the dream of a rural idyll that is far away in terms of time and geography” (ibid.).

Since Irving Berlin's Jewish parents fled to the USA from pogroms in Russia in 1892, research has speculated about the social and religious background of WHITE CHRISTMAS. However, no concrete evidence for a reference to Judaism could be provided; Berlin was the son of a cantor, but in the USA he was part of the medium-sized society for which he also wrote his songs. Many Jews and Jewish immigrants were successful in the entertainment culture of that time. The shift from major to minor in the harmonic progression that can be observed in WHITE CHRISTMAS (especially on the word “bright”) has already been interpreted as a Jewish characteristic; "The melancholy undertone" in the music should be an "echo of migrant nostalgia" (Hamberlin 2015: 389). The longing for home that appears in the song represents in this reading a Jewish component (exile experience), an assumption that is not very specific and therefore hardly verifiable.

 

III. analysis

The full text of the song consists of an introductory stanza (largely omitted in reception) and an eight-line chorus. The introductory stanza is interesting in terms of form and content. On the one hand, it refers to the connection to music theater that was customary at the time, in which songs were prepared in a quasi-recitative manner. In terms of content, however, the introductory stanza ironizes the following by describing the following situation prosaically:

The sun is shining, the grass is green
The orange and palm sway
There's never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, L.A.

The unspecified speaker in warm and sunny California longs for a white Christmas in the northern parts of the country on Christmas Eve:

But it's december, the twenty fourth
And I'm longing to be up north

Syncopations and triplets underline the free, quasi-improvised style of this introductory verse. Only then does the chorus begin with "I'm dreaming of a WHITE CHRISTMAS" (the title is in capital letters on the sheet music). This consists of eight lines with the rhyme scheme a-b-c-b or a-d-d-d. In addition to the first-person statement, there is a wish which the speaker wants to write on a Christmas card and which concludes the song: “May your days be merry and brigth / And may all your christmases be white”. The lyrics therefore refer to the eponymous and symbolic “white” Christmas. As already indicated, the introductory verse offers the listeners of the song a distancing and ironic effect on the chorus. In reception, however, this effect was not wanted, even in the film Holiday Inn and the introductory verse cannot be heard in the recordings with Bing Crosby. However, it was also labeled “ad libitum” in the sheet music edition, so it could be left out if the author wanted.

The song is in C major, a key that was associated with light and brightness, at least in the 19th century. The print comprises two pages of musical text for voice and piano; In addition, chord symbols or names are included, according to the explanation for guitar, ukulele and banjo. The performance instructions are "Slowly with expression", the song is notated in Allabreve time. The song has the following structure:

4 barsinstrumental foreplay
16 barsIntroductory verseThe sun is shining ...
32 takeChorus with two text stanzas of 4 verses eachI'm dreaming ...
Where the treetops glisten ...
I'm dreaming ...
May your days be merry ...
A.
B.
A.
C.

WHITE CHRISTMAS thus follows the conventions of the time, the ABAC form for the chorus was often used as the “Tin Pan Alley standard”, especially at the beginning of the 20th century, especially for “sentimental songs” such as Ralf von Appen and Markus Frei-Hausenschild (2012: 66f.).

The syllabic melody runs in small steps, at the beginning of the chorus (bars 1−4 on the words "I'm dreaming of a WHITE CHRISTMAS") the two chromatic tones D-sharp and F-sharp, which the short phrase with the frame tones e 'and g' color. The accompaniment follows the melody in these four bars in parallel: C | Dm / C H / G | Dm7 | F sharp / E G / F. The elimination of the melody is possible to a large extent and implemented in the piano arrangement. The ambitus of the singing voice comprises an octave with occasional undershooting of the range by a semitone or overshooting by a whole tone (only in the chorus).

For both the film and the recordings, string-dominated orchestral arrangements were used as accompaniment, as was customary at the time. The chorus is performed twice, in the film initially as a soloist by Bing Crosby, then in a duet with Marjorie Reynolds / Martha Mears. This version was arranged by the American film composer Walter Scharf. For the single production, a second singer was omitted, instead the Ken Darby Singers were hired. Both in the film and on the record, part of the repetition is accompanied by Bing Crosby's whistles. Compared to the printed music, Crosby's vocal performance is rhythmically more free, and words are occasionally highlighted by alternating notes.

 

IV. Reception

The recording of Bing Crosby is considered the most successful single of all time. However, the estimates are rather unreliable and highly fluctuating. Some believe that around 30 million pieces have been sold, while the website “Guiness World Records” assumes 50 million pieces for 2012. According to Jody Rosen (2003: 16), a total of more than 125 million recordings were sold in all versions.

The number of cover versions is almost unmanageable, the American collecting society ASCAP lists 423 different interpreters. Among others, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand and more recently Michael Bubblé recorded the song, there are other versions by Bonny M, Guns N ’Roses or Iggy Pop. For the German-speaking area, the well-known German hit writer Bruno Balz presented the text version “Sweet sings of the angel choir Christmas” in 1953, which was sung by Zarah Leander, Heintje and Peter Alexander, for example. It is not a translation; Compared to the text from Berlin, the German adaptation provides more traditional Christmas images (angels, candles, bells, "Festival of Love").

Due to the success of the song, a film with the name came out in 1954 White Christmas in the US cinemas (in the Federal Republic in the same year under the title White Christmas), again starring Bing Crosby. It is noteworthy that the opening scene of this music film addresses the reception of the song in World War II - in a glorifying way. The film material was resumed in the musical of the same name, which premiered in St. Louis (USA, Missouri) in 2000 and then went on tour in the USA, Great Britain and Australia.

In addition to the Oscar (1943) already mentioned, WHITE CHRISTMAS received other honors that underline the cultural significance of the song. Particularly noteworthy is the inclusion in the National Recording Registry the Library of Congress (USA, Washington D.C.) in 2002. This made WHITE CHRISTMAS part of the official culture of the United States or part of its cultural heritage. In addition, the song was included in various "best-of" lists, for example in the list "100 of the most important American musical works of the 20th century" of the National Public Radio (UNITED STATES).

In summary, it can be said that WHITE CHRISTMAS made an important contribution to the secularization and globalization of Christmas. At the same time, the song keeps an essential element of Christmas open: the longing for an ideal world. In the lyrics of the song it is sought in the past, but it is longed for in the present and future. Perhaps this possibility of dreaming is part of the success of this song; meanwhile the song belongs - in fact, if not officially - to the intangible world cultural heritage. Incidentally, the composer and lyricist Irving Berlin was convinced of his song. As early as 1940 he is said to have said to his secretary that this was not only the best song he had written, but the best ever written (cf. Rosen 2003, 36).

 

MICHAEL FISCHER


Credits

Vocals: Bing Crosby, Ken Darby Singers
Conductor and Orchestra: John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra
Author: Irving Berlin (music and text)
Label: Decca
Duration: 3:02 (recording 1942), 3:04 (recording 1947)

Recordings

  • Bing Crosby. White Christmas / Let's Start the New Year Right, Decca, 1942, 18429, USA (78 rpm / single).
  • Bing Crosby. White Christmas / God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Decca, 1947, 23778, USA (78rpm / single).
  • Bing Crosby. "White Christmas". Merry Christmas, Decca, 1955, DL 8128, USA (33 1/3 rmp / longplay)

Sheet Music

  • Berlin, Irving: White Christmas. New York: Irving Berlin Music Company [1942].
  • Berlin, Irving: White Christmas. White Christmas. German text: Bruno Balz. Munich: Chappell and Co. [1953].

References

  • Appen, Ralf von / Frei-Hauenschild, Markus: AABA, Refrain, Chorus, Bridge, Prechorus - song forms and their historical development. In: Black box pop. Analyzes of Popular Music. Ed. by Dietrich Helms and Thomas Phleps. Bielefeld: Transcript 2012, 57−124.
  • Hamberlin, Larry: White Christmas. In: Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture. Volume 6: Ta-Z. Ed. by Dan Diner. Stuttgart: Metzler, 387-390.
  • Kaplan, James: Irving Berlin.New York Genius. New Haven: Yale University Press 2019.
  • Miller, Daniel: The global festival. Berlin: Suhrkamp 2011.
  • Rosen, Jody: White Christmas. A song conquers the world. Munich: Karl Blessing 2003 (English: White Christmas. The Story of an American Song. New York: Scribner 2002).
  • Wahle, Stephan: The feast of the Incarnation. Christmas in faith, culture and society. Freiburg: Herder 2015, 328–332.
  • Saposnik, Irving: I'm dreaming of a Jewish Christmas. Jewish Christmas with Irving and Bing. In: Chrismukkah. Stories of Christmas and Hanukkah. An exhibition by the Jewish Museum Berlin, October 28, 2005 - January 29, 2006. Berlin: Nicolai 2005, 121−129.

Films

  • Holiday Inn. Director: Sandrich, Mark. Screenplay: Binyon, Claude based on an idea by Irving Berlin.USA, Paramount Pictures, 1942.
  • White Christmas. Director: Curtiz, Michael. Screenplay: Krasna, Norman / Panama, Norman / Frank, Melvin. USA, Paramount Pictures, 1954.

Left

  • To the movie Holiday Inn (1942): https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034862/ [11/16/2020].
  • To the Oscar award for the best film song (1943): https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1943 [11/16/2020].
  • To the movie White Christmas (1954): https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047673/ [11/16/2020].
  • List of the 100 most important musical works of the 20th century (National Public Radio, USA): https://www.npr.org/2000/12/25/1116021/white-christmas [11/16/2020].
  • Entry in the Guinness Book of World Records: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/best-selling-single [11/16/2020].
  • National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-recording-preservation-board/recording-registry/complete-national-recording-registry-listing/ [11/16/2020].
  • Entry with the US music collecting society ASCAP:
    https://www.ascap.com/repertory#ace/search/title/White%20Christmas/writer/Irving%20Berlin [11.11.2020].

About the author

Dr. Dr. Michael Fischer is Managing Director of the Center for Popular Culture and Music (University of Freiburg, Germany). He teaches media culture studies and cultural anthropology at the same University.
All contributions by Michael Fischer

Citation

Michael Fischer: "White Christmas (Bing Crosby)". In: Song Lexicon. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost, http://www.songlexikon.de/songs/white-christmas, 11/2020.

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