Mary's Boy Child

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"Mary's Boy Child"
Song by Harry Belafonte from the album An Evening with Belafonte
Released 1956
Genre Christmas
Language English
Writer Jester Hairston

"Mary's Boy Child" is a 1956 Christmas song, written by Jester Hairston.[1] It is widely performed as a Christmas carol.

History[edit]

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.[2] 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.[2] 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.[2]

Harry Belafonte heard the song being performed by the choir and sought permission to record it.[2] It was recorded in 1956 for his album An Evening with Belafonte. An edited version was subsequently released as a single,[3] reaching No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart in November 1957.[1] It was the first single to sell over one million copies in the UK alone.[1] To date, Belafonte's version has sold over 1.18 million copes.[4] In 1962. the full-length version was added to a re-issue of Belafonte's previously released album To Wish You a Merry Christmas.

The song was also recorded by Mahalia Jackson in 1956 but titled "Mary's Little Boy Child".[5]

Covers[edit]

One of the best-known cover versions of the song is from the British based disco-group Boney M. from 1978, "Mary's Boy Child – Oh My Lord."[6] This version returned the song to the top of the UK chart.[1] It is one of the best-selling singles of all time in the UK, and had sold 1.85 million copies by November 2012.[4]

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".[2] 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 Anne Murray, 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.

The song was also included on the 1991 live concert A Carnegie Hall Christmas Concert, featuring Kathleen Battle, Frederica von Stade and Wynton Marsalis.[citation needed]

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.

Translations[edit]

Translated versions include "Hankien Joulu" recorded by Georg Malmstén, "Kauan Sitten Beetlehem" recorded by Petri Laaksonen (fi), "Marian Poika" by Tarja Turunen, "Varje människa har ett ljus" recorded by Jan Malmsjö,[7] "...und Frieden für die Welt" by Rolf Zuckowski, "Maria's Kind" by La Esterella, "Bethlehem" by Rob de Nijs, "Det hände sig för länge sen" recorded by Kikki Danielsson on her 1987 Christmas album Min barndoms jular,[8] "Det hände sig för länge sen" recorded by Stefan Borsch on his 1981 Christmas album I kväll jag tänder ett ljus,[9] "Himlens hemlighet" recorded 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 No. 1.[10]

Other uses[edit]

The words and music featured on a miniature sheet issued with the 1983 Christmas stamps of the Caribbean island of St Kitts,[11] while the adjacent island of Nevis issued a complementary sheet featuring the "Calypso Carol".

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 33. ISBN 0-85112-250-7. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Boney M, John Shearlaw and David Brown, Hamlin Paperbacks, 1979 ISBN 0 600 20009 4, page 105
  3. ^ RCA Victor, 20-6735 (78rpm) / 47-6735 (45rpm)
  4. ^ a b Ami Sedghi (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". Guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  5. ^ Columbia, 40777 (78rpm) / 4-40777 (45rpm)
  6. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 360. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  7. ^ Information på Svensk mediedatabas
  8. ^ Information at Svensk mediedatabas
  9. ^ Information at Svensk mediedatabas
  10. ^ Svensktoppen - 1979
  11. ^ "St Kitts 1983 Christmas m/sheet (SG MS 138)". Justwendystamps.com. 
Preceded by
"That'll Be the Day" by Buddy Holly and The Crickets
UK Singles Chart number one single (Harry Belafonte version)
November 22, 1957
Succeeded by
"Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis
Preceded by
"Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" by Rod Stewart
UK Singles Chart number one single (Boney M version)
9 December 1978 - 30 December 1978
Succeeded by
"Y.M.C.A." by Village People
Preceded by
Mull of Kintyre by Wings
UK Christmas Number One single

"Mary's Boy Child – Oh My Lord"
*Original Christmas Video!
(Boney M. version) 1978

Succeeded by
Pink Floyd

Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)