This is part 16 of an Advent/Christmas series titled “Songs of Christmas.” For other parts of the series see the index. The index also contains the introduction for the series.
When I was a kid I remember a trivia question that went around. “What is the best selling music single of all time?” The answer is our song for today. Even if you didn’t know the answer before you started reading this post, you probably figured it out just you know that today I am talking about “White Christmas” sung by Bing Crosby. It is in the Guinness Book of World Records.
What I didn’t know at that time was, there are other trivia questions one could ask about “White Christmas.” The first one that came to my mind is, “What popular Christmas song was written by a Jew?” The second would be, “What recorded single went to number one in three separate years?” I feel certain I could find others, but this will suffice.
I also learned something else while doing the research for today’s post. Bing Crosby not only sang the biggest selling single of all time, he also had the number three song on the list with “Silent Night.”
In the early 1940s, Crosby was at the height of his career. He had a recording contract with Decca Records and a film contract with Paramount Film Studios. Most everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. As a result, songwriters wanted, dreamed of Bing Crosby singing one of their songs. One song writer who was pretty successful in his own right but was even more so because of Bing Crosby was Irving Berlin.
Berlin, however, had his own Midas touch. He also had a knack for putting together heartfelt lyrics with simple tunes that the public wanted to hear and to know.
Berlin was contracted to write the music for the musical Holiday Inn. Most of it was fine but there was a Christmas intended for the script. Berlin, a Jew, had limited knowledge of Christmas. Still, he didn’t back away from the challenge. Berlin focused on what he did know about Christmas, snow and Santa. Berlin realized that people were nostalgic for snow covered fields and children had dreams of visits from Santa. Putting the two together was the direction Berlin took.
When Berlin finished the song he didn’t care for it and almost threw it away but instead took it to Crosby who read it and liked it, but some say he wasn’t all that excited about it. Others claim that Crosby told Berlin not to change a thing.
Crosby debuted the song on radio on Christmas Day, 1941. The song spoke of a simpler time, a simpler dream that people longed for some three weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Crosby recorded the song six months later. That same summer, Holiday Inn opened. At first movie goers were more excited about another song, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.” But, the song gained in popularity over the next few months. Before Christmas 1942 the song was at the top of the Hit Parade and remained there for several weeks into 1943. Interestingly, the song returned to number one on the Hit Parade again in 1945 and 1946.
For many, even still today, it is not Christmas until they hear the crooning voice of Bing Crosby singing the all time best selling single, “White Christmas.”
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Joy and Peace,
Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved
Collins, Ace, Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.
Collins, Andrew, Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
Gant, Andrew, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.
Osbeck, Kenneth W. Joy to the World: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Christmas Carols, Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999.