Mary's Boy Child
|"Mary's Boy Child"|
|Song by Harry Belafonte from the album An Evening with Belafonte|
The song had its genesis when Hairston was sharing a room with a friend. The friend asked him to write a song for a birthday party. Hairston wrote the song with a calypso rhythm because the people at the party would be mainly West Indians. The song's original title was He Pone and Chocolate Tea, pone being a type of corn bread. It was never recorded in this form.
Some time later Walter Schumann, at the time conducting Schumann's Hollywood Choir, asked Hairston to write a new Christmas song for his choir. Hairston remembered the calypso rhythm from his old song and wrote new lyrics for it.
Harry Belafonte heard the song being performed by the choir and sought permission to record it. It was recorded in 1956 for his album An Evening with Belafonte. An edited version was subsequently released as a single, reaching #1 on the UK charts in 1957. In 1962 the full-length version was added to a reissue of Belafonte's previously released album To Wish You a Merry Christmas.
One of the best-known covers of the song is from the German disco-group Boney M. from 1978, "Mary's Boy Child – Oh My Lord." This version returned the song to the top of the UK charts. It is one of the best-selling singles of all time in the UK and has sold 1.85 million copies by November 2012. The version by Harry Belafonte sold 1.18 million copies in the UK.
When Hairston found out how well the Boney M version had done, he said: "God bless my soul. That's tremendous for an old fogey like me".  He was 78 at the time.
The song has been recorded twice by Andy Williams, once on his 1965 album Merry Christmas and again on his 1997 album We Need A Little Christmas. It has also been recorded by The Brothers Four, Charlotte Church (Dream a Dream, 2000), Greg MacDonald, Nat King Cole, The Lettermen (1966), The Merrymen, Jim Reeves (1963), Rolf Harris (1970), Roger Whittaker, The Little River Band, The Three Degrees, The Pete King Chorale, Nina & Frederik, Carola, Vikingarna, Kiri Te Kanawa (1984), José Mari Chan (1990), Al Bano and Romina Power (1991), Tom Jones (1993), John Denver, the cast of Glee (2013), Harry Connick Jr, Bryn Terfel, Connie Talbot and many others.
Translated versions include "Marian Poika" by Tarja Turunen, "Varje människa har ett ljus" by Jan Malmsjö, "...und Frieden für die Welt" by Rolf Zuckowski, "Bethlehem" by Rob de Nijs, "Det hände sig för länge sen" by Kikki Danielsson, "Det hände sig för länge sen" by Stefan Borsch, "Himlens hemlighet" by Tommy Körberg and "Du är som en sommardag" by dance band Schytts. The Schytts version was in the Swedish chart Svensktoppen for 10 weeks in 1979, where it peaked at #1.
Recent covers include The Wiggles on their 2004 album Santa's Rockin'; Juice Newton's folk-rock version on her 2007 The Gift of Christmas; Mandisa on her 2008 album It's Christmas; Paul Poulton's reggae version on his 2008 album Grooves 4 Scrooge; Daniel O'Donnell on his 2010 album O Holy Night; and Joe McElderry on his 2011 album Classic Christmas.
In 2012, the Portuguese priest António Cartageno made a choral arrangement for the song.
The words and music featured on a miniature sheet issued with the 1983 Christmas stamps of the Caribbean island of St Kitts while the adjacent island of Nevis issued a complementary sheet featuring the "Calypso Carol".
- Boney M by John Shearlaw and David Brown, Hamlin Paperbacks, 1979 ISBN 0 600 20009 4 page 105
- RCA Victor, 20-6735 (78rpm) / 47-6735 (45rpm)
- Columbia, 40777 (78rpm) / 4-40777 (45rpm)
- Ami Sedghi (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
- St Kitts 1983 Christmas m/sheet (SG MS 138)
"That'll Be the Day" by Buddy Holly and The Crickets
|UK Singles Chart number one single (Harry Belafonte version)
November 22, 1957
"Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis
"Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" by Rod Stewart
|UK Singles Chart number one single (Boney M version)
9 December 1978 - 30 December 1978
"Y.M.C.A." by Village People
|UK Christmas Number One single||Succeeded by