Mary, Did You Know?

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"Mary, Did You Know?" is a Christmas song addressing Mary, mother of Jesus, with lyrics written by Mark Lowry in 1984, and music written by Buddy Greene in 1991. It was originally recorded by Christian recording artist Michael English on his self-titled debut solo album in 1991. At the time, English and Lowry were members of the Gaither Vocal Band, and Greene was touring with them.[1] The song reached Number 6 on CCM Magazine's Adult Contemporary Chart.[2] Lowry would record the song several times himself, most notably with the Gaither Vocal Band on their 1998 Christmas album, Still the Greatest Story Ever Told.

The song has since gone on to become a modern Christmas classic, recorded by hundreds of artists over the years, across multiple genres.[1] Several recordings have reached the top ten in the Billboard R&B and Holiday charts. The song encourages contemplation of the relationship between Mary and her son, although some religious commentators have criticized the lyrics for downplaying Mary's own grace and understanding.

Music and lyrics[edit]

"Mary, Did You Know?" was originally released in the key of E minor, with a tempo of 53 beats per minute in 4
4
meter, based around a chord progression of Em–D–Am7–B7sus4–B7.[3] The lyrics evolved from a series of questions that Lowry scripted for a Christmas program at his church:

I just tried to put into words the unfathomable. I started thinking of the questions I would have for her if I were to sit down & have coffee with Mary. You know, "What was it like raising God?" "What did you know?" "What didn't you know?"[1]

None of the questions are answered in the song. Instead, the lyrics poetically invite the listener to contemplate the relationship between Mary and her newborn divine son,[4] even if her faith and awareness did not yet include the details of what would unfold.[5]

The text has received criticism for perceived ambiguity or lack of scriptural or theological depth.[4][6] For example, Lutheran writer Holly Scheer, in addressing the rhetorical question of the song's title, wrote: "Anyone who has even a slight familiarity with the biblical account of Christ's conception and birth shouldn't need to ask if Mary knew, because the Bible plainly tells us she did."[7] Baptist theologian Michael Frost suggested that it was the "most sexist Christmas song ever written... It treats her like a clueless child... Could you imagine a song asking Abraham 17 times if he knew he'd be the father of a great nation?"[8] Catholic commentators have often questioned a particular line of text ("This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you") that might confuse or challenge the belief that Mary herself was conceived without sin.[4][5][6]

In 2017, Toronto-based theologian Jennifer Henry wrote new lyrics that address the criticisms and echo Mary's words from the biblical Magnificat.[9] These new lyrics have begun to spread in religious settings.[10][11][12][13][14][15]

Stage musical[edit]

The song was used as the basis for a stage musical, written by David Guthrie and Bruce Greer and also titled Mary, Did You Know?, which won the 1999 Gospel Music Association Dove Award for Musical of the Year.[16]

Charted cover recordings[edit]

Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd (1996)[edit]

"Mary, Did You Know?"
Single by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd
from the album The Gift
ReleasedDecember 1996 (1996-12)
GenreCountry
Length3:53
LabelMagnatone
Songwriter(s)Mark Lowry, Buddy Greene
Producer(s)Brent Maher, Jim McKell
Kenny Rogers singles chronology
"I'll Be There for You"
(1992)
"Mary, Did You Know?"
(1996)
"The Greatest"
(1999)

A duet, recorded by Wynonna Judd and Kenny Rogers on Rogers' holiday album The Gift, peaked at No. 55 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart in 1997.[17]

Chart positions

Chart (1997) Peak
position
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[18] 55

Clay Aiken (2004)[edit]

"Mary, Did You Know?"
Single by Clay Aiken
from the album Merry Christmas with Love
Released2005
Recorded2004
GenreContemporary Christian music, Latin Pop
Length3:21
LabelRCA
Songwriter(s)Mark Lowry, Buddy Greene
Producer(s)Walter Afanasieff
Clay Aiken singles chronology
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
(2005)
"Mary, Did You Know?"
(2005)
"Without You"
(2006)

"Mary, Did You Know?" is the fifth single from Clay Aiken's 2004 Christmas album Merry Christmas with Love. Aiken performed the song on The Tyra Banks Show.[19]

Chart positions

Chart (2005) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks 35
U.S. Billboard Hot Christian Songs 32

CeeLo Green (2012)[edit]

"Mary, Did You Know?"
Single by CeeLo Green
from the album Cee Lo's Magic Moment
Released2012 (2012)
Recorded2012
GenreR&B
Length3:54
LabelRCA
Songwriter(s)Mark Lowry, Buddy Greene
Producer(s)Adam Anders, Peer Åström

"Mary, Did You Know?" is the eleventh track on CeeLo Green's Christmas album Cee Lo's Magic Moment. On December 15, 2012, the song appeared on the US R&B Songs chart at number 22, and peaked three weeks later at number 9. This version is the slowest of all. A remixed version also served as the closing credits song to the 2014 20th Century Fox movie Son of God.

Chart positions

Chart (2013) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot R&B Songs[20] 9
U.S. Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs[21] 35

Pentatonix (2014)[edit]

"Mary, Did You Know?"
Single by Pentatonix
from the album That's Christmas to Me
ReleasedOctober 17, 2014 (2014-10-17)
Recorded2012
GenreAmbient, a cappella
Length3:23
LabelRCA
Songwriter(s)Mark Lowry, Buddy Greene
Music video
"Mary, Did You Know?" on YouTube

"Mary, Did You Know?" is the sixth track on Pentatonix's second Christmas album, That's Christmas to Me.[22] The song both debuted and peaked at No. 26 on the weekly Billboard Hot 100 chart for the week ending December 6, 2014.

Chart positions

Chart (2014) Peak
position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[23] 47
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[24] 44
Hungary (Single Top 40)[25] 39
US Billboard Hot 100[26] 26

Jordan Smith (2015)[edit]

In 2015, Jordan Smith performed the song on The Voice's season nine finals. This version debuted and peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and at No. 2 on the Billboard Holiday 100 chart on the week ending January 2, 2016.

Carrie Underwood (2020)[edit]

In 2020, Carrie Underwood included the song as the eighth track on her debut Christmas album, My Gift. Underwood's version charted on Billboard's Hot Christian Songs, peaking at No. 31. Underwood performed the song on The Kelly Clarkson Show.[27]

Dolly Parton (2020)[edit]

In 2020, Dolly Parton covered the song on her album A Holly Dolly Christmas. It was released as the second single from the album on August 21, 2020. Parton performed the song for the first time during a livestream event on Amazon Music on November 13, 2020. She also performed the song during NBC's annual Christmas in Rockefeller Center tree-lighting ceremony on December 2 and again during her CBS special A Holly Dolly Christmas on December 6. Parton's version of the song peaked at number 49 on the Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart[28] and number 18 on the Billboard Christian Digital Song Sales chart.[29]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "How Well Do You Know 'Mary Did You Know?'". Sheet Music Direct. Retrieved December 30, 2018. an interview with the songwriter, Mark Lowry ... originally conducted by Martha Lyon for AbsolutelyGospel.com
  2. ^ Brothers, Jeffrey Lee (2003). Hot hits: adult contemporary charts, 1978–2001 (1st ed.). Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-4107-3294-1.
  3. ^ "Mary Did You Know sheet music". Sheet Music Direct. Retrieved September 13, 2018.[better source needed]
  4. ^ a b c McTeigue, Robert (December 9, 2015). "The Problem With 'Mary Did You Know'". Aleteia. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Greydanus, Steven D. (December 24, 2015). "What Did Mary Know and When Did She Know It?". National Catholic Register. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Arnold, Michelle (December 12, 2011). "Mary, Did You Know?". EWTN. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017.
  7. ^ Scheer, Holly (December 21, 2016). "Why 'Mary Did You Know' Is The Most Biblically Illiterate Christmas Tune". The Federalist. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
  8. ^ Frost, Michael (November 28, 2019). "Is this the least biblical, most sexist hymn ever written?". Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  9. ^ Henry, Jennifer (December 4, 2017). "Mary, did you know..." Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto. Retrieved December 14, 2020.
  10. ^ Winkel, Karen (December 15, 2019). "Mary Knew!". Community Spirit Church, Montrose, Colorado. Retrieved December 14, 2020.
  11. ^ Schott, Lee Roorda (December 11, 2019). "Rethinking Merry Gentlemen and Other Carols". Valley United Methodist Church, West Des Moines, Iowa. Retrieved December 14, 2020.
  12. ^ Wilcox, Diana L. (December 15, 2019). "Of Course Mary Knew!". Christ Episcopal Church, Bloomfield & Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Retrieved December 14, 2020.
  13. ^ Findley, Kathy Manis (December 14, 2019). "Mary's Spirit Song". God of the Sparrow. Retrieved December 14, 2020.
  14. ^ deVega, Magrey (December 20, 2019). "Midweek Message: Mary's Spirit Song". Hyde Park United Methodist Church, Tampa. Retrieved December 14, 2020.
  15. ^ Lige, Eric (December 7, 2020). "Mary Did You Know (reworked lyrics by Jennifer Henry)". Youtube. The Ethnos Project, San Diego. Retrieved December 14, 2020.
  16. ^ Cusic, Don (2010). Encyclopedia of contemporary Christian music: pop, rock, and worship. ABC-CLIO. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-313-34425-1. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  17. ^ Mary, Did You Know? at AllMusic
  18. ^ "Kenny Rogers Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  19. ^ Clay Aiken – Mary Did You Know – The Tyra Banks Show on YouTube
  20. ^ "Hot R&B Songs". Billboard. January 5, 2013.
  21. ^ "Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs". Billboard. January 5, 2013.
  22. ^ Official Video – Mary, Did You Know? - Pentatonix on YouTube
  23. ^ "Austriancharts.at – Pentatonix – Mary, Did You Know?" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved September 28, 2018.
  24. ^ "Pentatonix Chart History (Canadian Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved September 28, 2018.
  25. ^ "Archívum – Slágerlisták – MAHASZ" (in Hungarian). Single (track) Top 40 lista. Magyar Hanglemezkiadók Szövetsége. Retrieved March 7, 2018.
  26. ^ "Pentatonix Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  27. ^ Wilson, Matthew (December 19, 2020). "Carrie Underwood Sings 'Mary, Did You Know?' on Kelly Clarkson Show". Outsider. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  28. ^ "Dolly Parton Chart History (Hot Christian Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved December 15, 2020.
  29. ^ "Dolly Parton Chart History (Christian Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved December 10, 2020.

External links[edit]