Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

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"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
Music by Ralph Blane
Lyrics by Hugh Martin
Published 1943, 1944; alternate lyrics added by Martin 1957; copyright renewed 1971, 1972[1]
Language English
Form Christmas music
Original artist Judy Garland[2] in the 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis
Recorded by Jackie Gleason (1956), Frank Sinatra (1957), Connie Francis (1959), Marina and the Diamonds, Paulini and Ella Fitzgerald (1960) among others

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is a song introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis. Frank Sinatra later recorded a version with modified lyrics. The song was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. In 2007, ASCAP ranked "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" the third most performed Christmas song during the preceding five years that had been written by ASCAP members.[3]

Meet Me in St. Louis[edit]

The song was written while Martin was vacationing in a house in the neighborhood of Southside in Birmingham, Alabama, that his father Hugh Martin[4] designed for his mother as a honeymoon cottage. Located at 1919 South 15th Avenue (just down the street from his birthplace at 1900 South 14th Avenue), the house became the home of Martin and his family in 1923.[5] The song first appeared in a scene in Meet Me in St. Louis, in which a family is distraught by the father's plans to move to New York City for a job promotion, leaving behind their beloved home in St. Louis, Missouri, just before the long-anticipated 1904 World's Fair begins. In a scene set on Christmas Eve, Judy Garland's character, Esther, sings the song to cheer up her despondent five-year-old sister, Tootie, played by Margaret O'Brien.[6]

Lyrics[edit]

Some of the original lyrics that were penned by Martin were rejected before filming began. They were: "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last/ Next year we may all be living in the past / Have yourself a merry little Christmas / Pop that champagne cork / Next year we may all be living in New York."[7] When presented with the original draft lyric, Garland, her co-star Tom Drake and director Vincente Minnelli criticized the song as depressing, and asked Martin to change the lyrics.[1] Though he initially resisted, Martin made several changes to make the song more upbeat. For example, the lines "It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past" became "Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight".[1] Garland's version of the song, which was also released as a single by Decca Records, became popular among United States troops serving in World War II; her performance at the Hollywood Canteen brought many soldiers to tears.[8]

In 1957, Frank Sinatra asked Martin to revise the line "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow." He told Martin, "The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?"[1] Martin's new line was "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough." Martin made several other alterations, changing the song's focus to a celebration of present happiness, rather than anticipation of a better future. On The Judy Garland Show Christmas Special, Garland sings the song to her children Joey and Lorna Luft with Sinatra's alternate lyrics.[9]

The lyrics Garland sang in Meet Me in St. Louis have been recorded with only slight variations by a number of artists, including Sinatra himself (in 1950 and 1963 single recordings), Doris Day (in The Doris Day Christmas Album), Ella Fitzgerald (in Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas), James Taylor (in October Road), The Pretenders in the first A Very Special Christmas compilation released in 1987 (which benefits Special Olympics), and Luther Vandross (in This Is Christmas).[1]

In 2001 the 86-year-old composer Hugh Martin, occasionally active as a pianist with religious ministries since the 1980s, wrote an entirely new set of lyrics to the song with John Fricke, "Have Yourself a Blessed Little Christmas," a religious version of the secular Christmas standard. The song was recorded by gospel female vocalist Del Delker with Martin accompanying her on piano.[10]

In 2002, NewSong lead singer Michael O'Brien noted the line "through the years, we all will be together if the Lord allows," which was part of the original song, was purged and replaced with "if the fates allow" to remove religious reference when the song was released. He noted while a pastor in a California church in 1990, he had met Martin, who played piano at the church where O'Brien was serving for an evening, and the pastor was told, "That's the original way I wrote it, so I want you to sing it this way." [11] In addition to NewSong, Rachael Lampa, Twila Paris, Kathy Troccoli, Phil Wickham, BarlowGirl, Sidewalk Prophets, and Don Moen have recorded the song with the original lyrics.[citation needed]

In other languages[edit]

Songwriting collaboration controversy[edit]

Although Ralph Blane is credited with writing the music for many of Martin's songs, Martin claimed in his autobiography that he wrote both music and lyrics to all of the songs in Meet Me In St. Louis and that "all of the so-called Martin and Blane songs, (except for Best Foot Forward), were written entirely by me (solo) without help from Ralph or anybody else." [12] His explanation for allowing Blane equal credit for the songs was: "I was reasonably content to let him receive equal screen credit, sheet music credit, ASCAP royalties, etc., mainly because this bizarre situation was caused by my naive and atrocious lack of business acumen."[13]

The Victors[edit]

Frank Sinatra's version was controversially used by director Carl Foreman in his 1963 anti-war film The Victors as the soundtrack backdrop (along with the carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing") to the execution by firing squad of a G.I. deserter in a bleak, snowy field on Christmas Eve - a scene inspired by the real-life execution of Pvt. Eddie Slovik in 1945. The New York Times film reviewer, while recognising the power of the scene, complained that "the device itself is almost as specious and sentimental as what [Foreman] is trying to mock."[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Willman, Chris (2006-12-22). "There's Something About Merry". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  2. ^ Studwell, William Emmett (1995). "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". The Christmas carol reader. Routledge. p. 136. ISBN 1-56023-872-0. 
  3. ^ "ASCAP Announces Top 25 Holiday Songs" (Press release). ASCAP. 2007-11-12. Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  4. ^ Hugh Martin Cottage
  5. ^ Martin, Hugh (2010). The Boy Next Door. Trolley Press. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-0-615-36507-7. 
  6. ^ Dirks, Tim (1996). "Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)". The Greatest Films. Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  7. ^ Martin, Hugh (2010). The Boy Next Door. Trolley Press. pp. 196–197. ISBN 978-0-615-36507-7. 
  8. ^ Collins, Ace (2001). Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. pp. 78–79. ISBN 0-310-23926-5. 
  9. ^ "The Christmas Special". The Judy Garland Show. Season 1. Episode 15. 1963-12-22. 1:54 minutes in. CBS. CBS Television City.
  10. ^ "The Carpenter and the King". The Voice of Prophesy. Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  11. ^ CBS.COM – The Christmas Shoes from CBS
  12. ^ Martin, Hugh (2010). The Boy Next Door. Trolley Press. pp. 390–392. ISBN 978-0-615-36507-7. 
  13. ^ Martin, Hugh (2010). The Boy Next Door. Trolley Press. pp. 390–392. ISBN 978-0-615-36507-7. 
  14. ^ The Grim Message of War: Foreman's 'The Victors' at Two Theaters, by Bosley Crowther, New York Times, December 20, 1963

External links[edit]