The Little Drummer Boy
|"The Little Drummer Boy"|
|Single by Harry Simeone Chorale|
|B-side||"Die Lorelei" (20th Fox)
"O' Holy Night" (20th Century-Fox)
"O' Bambino (One Cold and Blessed Winter)" (Kapp Winners Circle; MCA)
|Released||19 October 1958|
|Label||20th Fox 45-121
20th Century-Fox 429
20th Century-Fox 6429
Kapp Winners Circle 86
"The Little Drummer Boy" (originally known as "Carol of the Drum") is a popular Christmas song written by the American classical music composer and teacher Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941. It was recorded in 1951 by the Trapp Family Singers and realised on the choir's first LP Christmas with the Trapp Family Singers and released as a single (45rpm). These were the first recordings released on their new record label Decca Records and further popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale. This version was re-released successfully for several years and the song has been recorded many times since.
In the lyrics the singer relates how, as a poor young boy, he was summoned by the Magi to the Nativity of Jesus. Without a gift for the infant the little drummer boy played his drum with Jesus' mother, Mary's approval; recalling, "I played my best for Him" and "He smiled at me."
The song was originally titled "Carol of the Drum" and was published by Davis as based upon a traditional Czech carol. Davis's interest was in producing material for amateur and girls' choirs: Her manuscript is set as a chorale, in which the tune is in the soprano melody with alto harmony, tenor and bass parts producing the "drum rhythm" and a keyboard accompaniment "for rehearsal only". It is headed "Czech Carol freely transcribed by K.K.D", these initials then deleted and replaced with "C.R.W. Robinson", a name under which Davis sometimes published. The Czech original of the carol has never been identified.
"Carol of the Drum" appealed to the Austrian Trapp Family Singers, who first brought the song to wider prominence when they recorded it for Decca Records in 1955, shortly before they retired: their version was credited solely to Davis and published by Belwin-Mills. In 1957 it was recorded, with a slightly altered arrangement, by the Jack Halloran Singers for their album Christmas Is A-Comin' on Dot Records. Dot's Henry Onorati introduced the song to his friend Harry Simeone and the following year, when 20th Century Fox Records contracted him to make a Christmas album, Simeone, making further small changes to the Halloran arrangement and retitling it "The Little Drummer Boy", recorded it with the Harry Simeone Chorale on the album Sing We Now of Christmas. Simeone and Onorati claimed joint composition credits with Davis.
The album and the song were an enormous success, the single scoring on the U.S. music charts from 1958 to 1962. In 1963, the album was reissued under the title The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival, capitalizing on the single's popularity. The following year the album was released in stereo. In 1988, The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival was released on CD by Casablanca Records, and subsequently, on Island Records. Harry Simeone, who in 1964 had signed with Kapp Records, recorded a new version of "The Little Drummer Boy" in 1965 for his album O' Bambino: The Little Drummer Boy. Simeone recorded the song a third and final time in 1981, for an album (again titled The Little Drummer Boy) on the budget Holiday Records label.
The story depicted in the song is somewhat similar to a 12th-century legend retold by Anatole France as Le Jongleur de Notre Dame (French: Our Lady's Juggler), which was adapted into an opera in 1902 by Jules Massenet. In the French legend, however, a juggler juggles before the statue of the Virgin Mary, and the statue, according to which version of the legend one reads, either smiles at him or throws him a rose (or both, as in the 1984 television film, The Juggler of Notre Dame.)
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The popularity of "The Little Drummer Boy" can be seen by the number of cover versions, a total of over 220 versions in seven languages are known, in all kinds of music genres:
- 1957: The Jack Halloran Singers included "Carol of the Drum" on their Christmas album, Christmas Is A-Comin'
- 1958: The Vienna Boys Choir sang the song "The Little Drummer Boy" in USA TV on 22 December. Conductor was Gerhard Lang
- 1959: The Beverley Sisters' version reached No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart
- The Ray Conniff Singers recorded a version of the song as part of a medley with "Jolly Old St. Nicholas," which was released on their album We Wish You a Merry Christmas; in 1967, the "Little Drummer Boy" portion of the medley was released as a single, paired with Conniff's 1959 recording of "White Christmas"
- Bing Crosby released a solo version of the song on his Warner Bros. Records Christmas album, I Wish You a Merry Christmas (which has since been repackaged for CD by both Capitol Records and RCA Records)
- Johnny Cash released a version of the song on his Christmas album, The Christmas Spirit; this version was previously a US chart single during the Christmas season of 1959
- Johnny Mathis released a version of the song on his second Christmas album, Sounds of Christmas, which peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard's special Christmas Singles chart; re-recorded the tune in 1969 for his next Christmas album, Give Me Your Love for Christmas
- Andy Williams released a version of the song on his first Christmas album, The Andy Williams Christmas Album
- Marlene Dietrich recorded a German version of the song (titled "Der Trommelmann")
- Jo Stafford released a version of the song on her Christmas album, The Joyful Season
- The Supremes recorded the song for their Christmas album, Merry Christmas
- The Vince Guaraldi Trio released a jazz piano arrangement of the song, titled "My Little Drum," on their soundtrack album, A Charlie Brown Christmas
- Anita Kerr and the Living Voices released a version of the song on their Christmas album, The Little Drummer Boy
- Nana Mouskouri recorded a French version of the song (titled "L'enfant au tambour")
- Raphael recorded for the first time a version of the song with the Spanish title "El tamborilero" ("The drummer")
- Joan Baez recorded a version of the song for her Christmas album, Noël, which peaked at No. 16 on Billboard magazine's special Christmas Singles chart in December of '66
- Henry Mancini recorded a version of the song for his Christmas album, A Merry Mancini Christmas.
- The Crusaders released their version of the song as a single. It was also included on their November 1966 debut album, which is regarded as one of the first Christian rock albums
- Lou Rawls released a version of the song on his Christmas album, Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho!; this version was also released as a Capitol Records single that peaked at No. 2 on Billboard magazine's special Christmas Singles chart in December of '67, and then at No. 5 on the same chart in December 1969
- Kenny Burrell released an instrumental version of the song that peaked at No. 21 on Billboard magazine's special Christmas Singles chart in late December of '67
- Stevie Wonder released a version of the song on his Christmas album, Someday at Christmas
- Living Strings & LIving Voices recorded the song for their album White Christmas
- The Vienna Boys Choir sang the song in an animated television special by Rankin/Bass
- Jimi Hendrix recorded a cover of the song, his last recording before his death the following year, which was later included on his 1999 holiday EP, Merry Christmas & Happy New Year
- The Jackson 5 recorded a cover of the song, which was included on the group's 1970 holiday album, Jackson 5 Christmas Album
- The Brady Bunch released a version of the song on their Christmas album, Christmas with The Brady Bunch
- The Temptations covered the song on their album The Temptations Christmas Card
- One of the more well-known versions is a duet by the unusual pairing of Bing Crosby and David Bowie on Crosby's final holiday TV special (Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas) as a medley titled "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy"
- Anne Murray has a version on her album, Christmas Wishes
- The German band Boney M. released it on their album, Christmas Album (the single peaked at no. 20 on the German pop singles chart); the last song to feature dancer Bobby Farrell
- Rosemary Clooney released a version of the song on her Christmas album, Christmas with Rosemary Clooney
- Joan Jett & The Blackhearts included their version on initial pressings of their album I Love Rock 'n Roll and on later CD and vinyl re-releases.
- An Italian version was recorded by I Cavalieri del Re, an Italian band that specialized in cartoon songs
- The Canadian Brass released an instrumental version of the song or their Christmas album, A Canadian Brass Christmas
- Soprano Kiri te Kanawa recorded the song for her 1982 Christmas album Christmas With Kiri
- Ray Charles released a version on his Christmas album The Spirit of Christmas
- Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band released a version of the song on the Special Olympics Christmas charity album A Very Special Christmas, though their version very noticeably excludes all names or religious references (i.e. "Then he nodded" instead of "Mary nodded")
- Mannheim Steamroller included a version of the song on their second Christmas album, A Fresh Aire Christmas
- Alexander O'Neal included a version of the song on his first Christmas album, My Gift to You
- The Christian rock band White Heart released a version of the song on Christmas, a 1988 Christmas album by artists who recorded for Sparrow Records
- Grace Jones performed an excerpt from the song on the children's television program, Pee-Wee's Playhouse
- New Kids on the Block (with lead vocals by Danny Wood) recorded the song for their Christmas album, Merry, Merry Christmas
- New Age guitarist Ottmar Liebert recorded a version for his album Poets & Angels: Music 4 the Holidays
- Robert Wendel arranged an instrumental adaptation in the style of Ravel's Boléro which was recorded by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops on the 2006 Telarc Christmas album, Christmas Time Is Here
- White Heart recorded a version on their album Souvenirs
- Take 6 released a version of the song on their Christmas album, He Is Christmas
- The Yobs released a parody version of the song titled "Rub-a-Dum-Dum"
- Jazz guitarist Tuck Andress recorded an instrumental version of the song for his album, Hymns, Carols and Songs about Snow
- Al Bano & Romina Power released an Italian version of the song titled "Il Piccolo Tamburino"
- The ABBA "parody" band Björn Again covered the song for their single release, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"/"Little Drummer Boy" (©1992 M & G)
- The Vocal Majority released the David Wright arrangement of the song on their album Alleluia
- Tenor Jose Carreras sang this song as a duet with Diana Ross for the Christmas concert and recording Christmas in Vienna
- Neil Diamond recorded his version for his album, The Christmas Album
- An episode of the television show Animaniacs has the Warners traveling to the birthplace of Jesus, where for lack of other gifts they perform the song
- Glen Campbell recorded the song on his Christmas album Home for the Holidays
- RuPaul released an R&B version of the song as a single on Tommy Boy Records which bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart at No. 13
- Kenny G recorded an acoustic version of the song for his first Christmas album, Miracles: The Holiday Album
- The Dandy Warhols recorded the first of two versions of the song, which was released by Tim/Kerr Records
- Jars of Clay recorded the song for their EP, Drummer Boy (also for their 2007 full-length Christmas album, Christmas Songs)
- Apocalyptica covered the song and released it as a single
- The Dandy Warhols recorded the second of two versions of the song, which was released by Capitol Records
- The Toasters covered the song on the Moon Ska Records Christmas compilation album, Christma-Ska
- Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson did a version for the guitar Christmas album, Merry Axemas
- Alicia Keys released a modified version of the song titled "Little Drummer Girl" on the Christmas album, Jermaine Dupri Presents Twelve Soulful Nights Of Christmas
- German punk band Die Toten Hosen released a version of the song on their album, Wir warten auf's Christkind under their pseudonym Die Roten Rosen (other Christmas songs were included on this album)
- Chicago released a version of the song on their first Christmas album, Chicago XXV
- Minnesota band Low included a version on their EP Christmas
- The West Wing's first Christmas episode, "In Excelsis Deo," featured a boys choir singing the song over a funeral service
- Swedish artist Carola Häggkvist recorded the song in a duet with Blues for her Christmas album, Jul i Betlehem
- Ringo Starr released a version of the song on his twelfth studio album, I Wanna Be Santa Claus
- The Three Tenors performed this song for their 1999 Christmas concert which was released on CD and DVD as The Three Tenors Christmas
- Yolanda Adams released a version of the song on her seventh studio album and first Christmas album, Christmas with Yolanda Adams
- The Wiggles released a version of the song on their Christmas album, Yule Be Wiggling
- Charlotte Church released a version of the song on her third album, Dream a Dream
- Destiny's Child released a version of the song on their Christmas album, 8 Days of Christmas
- Westlife performed the song live with singer Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries in front of Pope John Paul II
- A parody version by Bob Rivers titled "The Little Hooters Girl" was included on his Christmas album, White Trash Christmas
- Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater covered the song as part of his solo piano Christmas album, Christmas Sky
- Bright Eyes covered the song for their holiday album, A Christmas Album
- Los Straitjackets recorded an instrumental version (in a style insipred by Link Wray's "Rumble") for their holiday album, 'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets!
- The Echoing Green on their EP Fall Awake
- Whitney Houston and her daughter Bobbi Kristina recorded a cover of the song for Houston's Christmas album, One Wish: The Holiday Album
- The Blind Boys of Alabama released a version of the song (with vocals by Michel Franti) on their album, Go Tell it On the Mountain
- King Diamond's album The Puppet Master contained an extract from "The Little Drummer Boy" in their song, "Christmas"
- moe included the song on their Seasons Greetings from moe album
- Pavlo released an instrumental version of the song on his album, Frostbite
- Clay Aiken sang the "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" with the late Bing Crosby via special effects on the Nick at Nite Holiday Special.
- Vanessa Williams released a cover of the song on her second Christmas album, Silver & Gold
- Jessica Simpson released a version of the song featuring her sister Ashlee Simpson on her Christmas album, ReJoyce: The Christmas Album
- Art Paul Schlosser released a version of the song titled "Kazoo Boy" on his album, The ABCs of Art Paul Schlosser World; using a kazoo instead of a drum on the "rum pum pum pum" parts
- The McDades released a version of the song with Terry McDade on their album "Noel" featuring an intro with an Indian Ghazal improvisation
- Decomposure covered the song, which was released on the compilation album, A Very Unschooled Christmas; re-released on Decomposure's own compilation album, Songs from Old Headphones
- Boyz II Men released their rendition of the song on their second Christmas album, Winter/Reflections
- Bryan Duncan and the NehoSoul Band recorded the song on their Christmas album, A NehoSoul Christmas
- Dwight Schrute briefly performed the song in the pilot episode of The Office
- MercyMe recorded the song for their Christmas album, The Christmas Sessions
- Aly & AJ released a version of the song on their Christmas album, Acoustic Hearts of Winter
- Gladys Knight and the Saints Unified Voices choir released a version of the song on their Grammy Award-winning Christmas album, A Christmas Celebration
- Sufjan Stevens released a cover of the song on his EP, Joy: Songs for Christmas - Vol. IV, which is part of his box set, Songs for Christmas
- Christopher Lee released a version of the song on his album, Revelation
- Alfio recorded a version of the song in English and the Sicilian language for the Christmas edition of his debut album, Tranquillita
- Celtic Woman performed a version of the song on their Christmas show in a duet with Orla Fallon and Chloë Agnew
- Josh Groban released a version of the song (featuring guitarist Andy McKee and Gigi Hadid on background vocal) on his holiday album, Noël
- Jan Rot performed a Dutch version of the song on An + Jan's Christmas album, Vrolijk Kerstfeest
- Faith Hill released a version of the song on her album, Joy to the World
- The Almost released a version of the song on their acoustic EP, No Gift to Bring, with an accompanying music video
- Terry Wogan and Aled Jones recorded a cover of the 1977 David Bowie/Bing Crosby duet, "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy"; after a brief campaign amongst listeners of BBC Radio 2 instigated by Chris Evans to get the song released in support of the Children In Need charity, it was released as a single on 8 December 2008, reaching No. 3 in the UK Top 40 singles chart
- Doug Pinnick, George Lynch, Billy Sheehan and Simon Phillips released a version of the song on the 2008 compilation album, We Wish you a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year
- Chris Leslie (of Fairport Convention), Julie Matthews, David Hughes and Chris While recorded a version under the title "The Carol Of The Drum"
- Raphael performed a version of the song with the Spanish title "El tamborilero" ("The drummer")
- Kokia released a cover of the song as a part of a medley on her Christmas album, Christmas Gift
- South African singer Lianie May released her version of the song on her album Kersfees met Lianie
- Bob Dylan released a version of the song on his holiday album, Christmas in the Heart
- Sean Kingston released his version of the on the various artists Christmas album, A Very Special Christmas Vol.7
- Lukas Rossi released his cover of the song and made it available for download on his web page
- Family Force 5 have a version on their album Family Force 5 Christmas Pageant with the drum replaced by a drum machine
- Hans-Peter Lindstrøm released a 40-minute electronic version available as a limited CD and download* Heavy Blinkers featuring Jenn Grant released an alternative look at the song titled "Silence Your Drum", told from the perspective of Joseph and Mary, who would rather hear some lute than the barum-pah-pum-pum of the drum
- Scott Aukerman and Jimmy Pardo parodied the 1977 David Bowie/Bing Crosby duet version "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" on the 2009 Christmas album, Comedy Death-Ray, to raise money for the Los Angeles Food Bank
- REO Speedwagon released a cover of the song on their album Not So Silent Night...Christmas with REO Speedwagon
- Mariah Carey released a version of the song on her thirteenth studio album and second Christmas album, Merry Christmas II You
- Wilson Phillips covered the song on their album Christmas in Harmony, which charted at No. 13 on the US AC chart
- Pink Martini released a version of the song on their album, Joy to the World
- The Black Eyed Peas performed a mashup of the song with their single "The Time (Dirty Bit)" on The Oprah Winfrey Show
- Metalcore band August Burns Red released a cover of the song
- Collegehumor created a cover of the song with actors Jason Segel and Jack Black
- The Priests released a version of "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" on their album, Noel, as well as a collaboration with Shane MacGowan
- Delta Goodrem created a cover of the song on the album The Spirit of Christmas 2010
- Justin Bieber collaborated with Busta Rhymes on a version of the song for his album, Under the Mistletoe
- The Glee cast released a version of the song for their second Christmas album, Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 2
- New York a cappella group Duwende released a video version of the song
- VeggieTales released an animated film titled The Little Drummer Boy
- Joe McElderry included a version of the song on his third studio album, Classic Christmas
- Jamaican artist Shaggy covered the song for his single "Jamaican Drummer Boy"
- Richard Marx recorded the song and filmed a promotional music video for his album, Christmas Spirit, which reached No. 13 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart (returning to the chart after 15 years)
- Christopher Lee released the single "A Heavy Metal Christmas," which included a cover of the song
- Phish performed covers and teases of the song during their New Years Run at Madison Square Garden
- Neal Morse and the "Prog World Orchestra" recorded the song featuring Mike Portnoy on drums for the album "A Proggy Christmas"
- Lincoln Brewster released his version on "Joy To The World," with a rendition with Christian rapper, KJ-52
- Bad Religion recorded the song for their album, Christmas Songs
- Walk off the Earth recorded the song for the iTunes session series album, live off the floor
- Susan Boyle released a version of the song featuring The Overtones as part of her album, Home for Christmas (Susan Boyle album)
- Pentatonix released a video on YouTube in which they covered the song; released as a digital single, this version both debuted and peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the week ending 21 December
- The Christian rock duo For King & Country recorded the song for their EP, Into the Silent Night
- Jonathan Butler recorded it on Merry Christmas to You
- Reggie and the Full Effect released a version under their alter ego Common Denominator for the X-Mas Mini EP called "Little Black Metal Drummer Boy"
- Earth, Wind & Fire released their version on the album Holiday
- Jetty Rae released her version of the song for her holiday album More Than December
- Peter Hollens YouTube video with Mike Tompkins from Hollens Family Christmas video album December 2016
- Jennifer Nettles covered the song on her album To Celebrate Christmas
- The Secret Sisters released a version with simple acoustic guitar accompaniment and two-part vocal harmony.
- Jackie Evancho covered the song with Il Volo on her album Someday at Christmas
Covers in other languages
- In Spanish speaking countries it is a common carol recorded under the name "El niño del tambor" (The boy of the drum) or "El tamborilero". One of the better known cover versions of the song is sung by Spanish singer Raphael.
- In French speaking countries since Nana Mouskouri 1965 version it is a common song recorded under the name "L'enfant au tambour" (The boy with a drum).
- A Punjabi version was recorded under the name "Drummer Boy - Kich Ke" in 2014 by Canadian YouTube sensation Jus Reign for his "Geeta Brothers Presents - Punjabi Christmas Album".
- A Finnish version of the song, entitled "Pieni Rumpali" (meaning "Little Drummer"), was recorded by Ville Tuomi for the second Raskasta Joulua album, Raskaampaa Joulua, and included vocals from Sonata Arctica frontman Tony Kakko. It was recorded a second time by Finnish band Northern Kings (Of which Kakko is also a member) for the 2013 album. In 2015, Kakko collaborated with Apocalyptica cellist Eicca Toppinen to record another version.
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