Of the many traditional Christmas carols, one of the most moving – and most covered – is White Christmas. Composed by Irving Berlin in 1942, it speaks of the idealized and common scenario in the northern hemisphere which is a snowy Christmas night.
Bing Crosby, the most famous singer in America in the 1940s, was the first to sing it, on Christmas Eve in 1941, just days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Although it is the biggest hit of the singer’s career, he didn’t pay any special attention to the song, limiting himself to telling Irving Berlin that he “had no problem with it”.
Legend has it that White Christmas was composed in 1940, in a very hot California. Berlin, who religiously wrote a song a day, knew he had got it right and would have asked his assistant to write it, “I wrote a song over the weekend that is not only the best song I’ve ever written, it’s the best song ever written”, celebrated.
White Christmas entered as part of the musical Holiday Inn and won the Oscar for Best Song in 1942. (By the way, another trivia. Irving Berlin was the presenter of the category and announced his own name, causing embarrassment and a change in the rules of the ceremony. Since then, if the artist is nominated in the category, he cannot submit it, even if he was the winner the previous year. But that is a subject for another post!)
Irving Berlin wrote over 1500 songs, many of which are considered classics. He was already a celebrity before the age of 30 (his career spanned 60 years) and in addition to 20 Broadway musicals, he wrote soundtracks for 15 films. Receiving eight Academy Award nominations, White Christmas was his first and is one of the most covered songs in music history.
In the film, Bing Crosby sings in a duet with actress Marjorie Reynolds (voiced by Martha Mears). The single sold over 50 million copies and held #1 on the charts for three consecutive months. Crosby’s version is still considered the best-selling single of all time.
White Christmas manages to touch people all over the world, even those who don’t have a “white Christmas” or with snow, because the melody awakens nostalgia in every note, like a lullaby.
Because it was sung for the first time shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, American soldiers connected with the song and lyrics, which speak of homesickness and family, so it was associated with World War II. Crosby cited one of his performances for the troops, with more than a thousand soldiers moved by the song, as one of the most defining moments of his career.
Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Judy Garland are just a few of the many artists who have covered the song. The resounding success of White Christmas established a lucrative market that still sustains many artists today, which are Christmas albums.
It’s one of my favorite songs, of course. Merry Christmas!