Jump to content

The Little Drummer Boy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"The Little Drummer Boy"
One of US single picture sleeves
Single by Harry Simeone Chorale
B-side"Die Lorelei"
ReleasedDecember 19, 1958 (1958-12-19)
Label20th Fox

"The Little Drummer Boy" (originally known as "Carol of the Drum") is a popular Christmas song written by American composer Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941.[1] First recorded in 1951 by the Austrian Trapp Family, the song was further popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale; the Simeone version was re-released successfully for several years, and the song has been recorded many times since.[2] 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 approval from Jesus's mother, Mary, recalling, "I played my best for him" and "He smiled at me". Despite the song's popularity, the story of the drummer boy is not biblically accurate.[3]

Origins and history[edit]

The song was originally titled "Carol of the Drum". While speculation has been made that the song is very loosely based on the Czech carol "Hajej, nynej",[4] the chair of the music department at Davis's alma mater Wellesley College claims otherwise.[5] In an interview with Music Department Chair Claire Fontijn, the College writes:

Inspiration for "The Little Drummer Boy" came to Davis in 1941. "[One day], when she was trying to take a nap, she was obsessed with this song that came into her head and it was supposed to have been inspired by a French song, 'Patapan'," explained Fontijn. "And then 'patapan' translated in her mind to 'pa-rum-pum-pum,' and it took on a rhythm." The result was "The Little Drummer Boy".

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 crossed out and replaced with "C.R.W. Robinson", a name under which Davis sometimes published.[6][7]

"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 1951 on their first album for the label. Their version was credited solely to Davis and published by Belwin-Mills.[8]

In 1957, the song was recorded with an altered arrangement by Jack Halloran for his Jack Halloran Singers on their Dot Records album Christmas Is A-Comin'. This arrangement is the one commonly sung today.[2] However, the recording was not released as a single that year. In response to this, Dot producer Henry Onorati, who left Dot to become the new head of 20th Century-Fox Records in 1958,[9] introduced the song to Harry Simeone. When 20th Century-Fox Records contracted with Simeone to record a Christmas album, Simeone hired many of the same singers who had sung in Halloran's version and made a near-identical recording with his newly created Harry Simeone Chorale.[2][10][11] It was released as a single in 1958,[10] and later on the album, Sing We Now of Christmas, later retitled The Little Drummer Boy. The only difference between Simeone's and Halloran's versions, was that Simeone's contained finger cymbals, and the song's title had been changed to "The Little Drummer Boy".[2] Simeone and Onorati claimed and received joint composition credits with Davis,[2] although the two did not actually compose or arrange it.[10][11] Halloran never received a joint writing credit for the song, something his family disagrees with.[10][11][12]

The album and the song were an enormous success,[13] with the single scoring in the top 40 of the U.S. music charts from 1958 to 1962.[10] In 1965, Simeone, who had signed with Kapp Records in 1964, re-recorded a new version of the song for his album O' Bambino: The Little Drummer Boy.[14] This version (3:18 play time) was recorded in stereo, had a slightly slower tempo, and contained different-sounding cymbals. Simeone recorded the song a third and final time in 1981 (3:08 play time), for an album, again titled The Little Drummer Boy, on the budget Holiday Records label.


"The Little Drummer Boy" has been recorded by many artists:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Boughton, Harrison Charles (1977). "Katherine K. Davis: life and work". Ann Arbor, Michigan: Thesis, University of Missouri, reprint by University Microfilms. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ a b c d e Leigh, Spencer (5 March 2005). "Harry Simeone Populariser of 'The Little Drummer Boy'". The Independent. Archived from the original on 27 November 2019. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  3. ^ "Is the little drummer boy in the Bible?". Got Questions?. Retrieved 14 April 2024.
  4. ^ Crawford, Deanne. "The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Unit Study". Our Homeschool Forum. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  5. ^ "Wellesley Faculty Experts Provide Historical Context for Christmas Carols for WGBH, U.S. Postal Service". Wellesley College. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  6. ^ "Image of original manuscript in Wellesley College Library". Archived from the original on 4 January 2012. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  7. ^ Cummings, Robert. "Katherine K. Davis biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 31 December 2011.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Scan of published sheet music". Photos1.blogger.com. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  9. ^ Anonymous, "20th Fox set with 1st Disk Releases". Billboard, April 21, 1958.
  10. ^ a b c d e "The Little Drummer Boy by The Harry Simeone Chorale Songfacts". Songfacts.com. 11 September 1977. Archived from the original on 25 November 2019. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  11. ^ a b c Estrella, E. (8 February 2019). "How the 'Little Drummer Boy' Christmas Carol Came to Be".
  12. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (2002). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Fifties Music (Third ed.). Virgin Books. p. 394. ISBN 1-85227-937-0.
  13. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Harry Simeone Chorale". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 12 June 2020. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  14. ^ Record catalogue number: KL-1450, Track 1, Length 3:18.
  15. ^ "We Wish You A Merry Christmas: Ray Conniff and The Singers: MP3 Downloads". Amazon. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  16. ^ The Little Drummer Boy at AllMusic
  17. ^ "Variety". Variety. 7 October 1964.
  18. ^ "Desvelado el 'secreto' mejor guardado de Raphael sobre 'El Tamborilero', oculto durante cinco décadas". COPE (in Spanish). 24 November 2020. Retrieved 22 July 2023.
  19. ^ The Top 20 Book, Tony Jasper, ISBN 0 7137 2036 0
  20. ^ Stix Hooper - The World Within Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic, retrieved 26 December 2022
  21. ^ "Offizielle Deutsche Charts".
  22. ^ Zaleski, Annie (30 November 2017). "When David Bowie and Bing Crosby Rang in the Holidays". Ultimate Classic Rock. Archived from the original on 28 November 2020. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  23. ^ "The Dandy Warhols – The Little Drummer Boy / Dick". Discogs.
  24. ^ "Ringo Starr I Wanna Be Santa Claus (Mercuruy)". AustinChronicle.com. 24 December 1999. Retrieved 26 December 2022.
  25. ^ "Bandaged: The Album".
  26. ^ "The 50 greatest Christmas songs – ranked!". TheGuardian.com. 5 December 2019.
  27. ^ "Greatest of All Time Holiday 100 Songs". Billboard. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  28. ^ "Glee Cast Chart History (Holiday Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  29. ^ "Pentatonix Chart History (Holiday 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 5 August 2021.
  30. ^ "Top 100 Songs". Rolling Stone. 5 August 2021. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019. Retrieved 5 August 2021.
  31. ^ "2021 Winners | The 52nd Annual GMA Dove Awards". Retrieved 6 December 2021.
  32. ^ "Happy Holidays We're Singing The Little Drummer Boy".

External links[edit]