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The Magic Of Christmas Music

Despite its fifth-place standing on ASCAP's list of most-performed seasonal songs over the last five years, "White Christmas" is the chairman of the board of Christmas songs. It is the most-recorded song in history, with Crosby's version alone selling 31 million copies. It has been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Doris Day to Elvis Presley and Kiss.

"White Christmas" held the record as the top-selling song of all time from its release in 1942 until it was eclipsed by Elton John's horrid song about Princess Diana following her 1997 death, "Candle in the Wind." Not even original, the song was a derivative of one he had written about Marilyn Monroe.

Five years after "White Christmas" was first recorded, Crosby went back in the studio to do it again, because the master version was worn out after millions of reproductions. It is the 1947 version we are mostly familiar with, with Crosby's voice sounding slightly deeper than when he first recorded it.

While some uncertainty surrounds the origins of "White Christmas," many music historians believe Irving Berlin wrote it during the 1937 Christmas period when staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He was making a movie at the time, and was homesick for his family, New York, and its seasonal snow. After it was written, the song sat in a drawer for five years.

But if "White Christmas" has done much to fuel the enjoyment of Christmas celebrants around the world, what it did for our troops overseas during World War II is inestimable. Brought to troops in the form of 78-r.p.m. records contained in "recreation kits" supplied by the military, heard on Armed Forces Radio and played on jukeboxes at PX stores and USO halls, it served as a powerful reminder of why they were fighting.

The Buffalo Courier-Express editorialized, "When Irving Berlin set people dreaming of a White Christmas he provided a forcible reminder that we are fighting for the right to dream and memories to dream about."

As expressed by author Jody Rosen in his book, "White Christmas, the Story of an American Song", "'White Christmas' never mentioned the war, yet it was a potent wartime anthem, inciting patriotism in its most primal form: homesickness." He adds, "With its mystical vision of the home to which they longed to return, 'White Christmas' was, for many American soldiers, a 'why we fight' anthem that was true to life." It was more popular with troops than, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition," and other fighting songs.

Little known is the fact it was actually the unprecedented demand for "White Christmas" by overseas troops in 1942 that started the song on its journey to the pinnacle of the music charts here at home. On November 21, it began an unprecedented ten-week reign atop the Hit Parade.

On overseas trips to perform at USO shows, Crosby was always asked to do his signature song, no matter the season. Rosen tells of a Crosby appearance before a paratroop unit in France where a gruff, square-jawed sergeant approached him before the show and asked if he was going to sing "White Christmas." When Crosby assured him he would, the sergeant said he would have to duck out. "I'll listen from behind the portable kitchen," he said. "It's no good for the men's morale to see their sergeant crying."

This Christmas season again sees Americans fighting overseas. I haven't come across any polls on the subject, but I have to believe that "White Christmas" and other seasonal songs mean as much to our troops now as they did to their counterparts on earlier battlefields.

The themes and words of many Christmas songs beautifully express the way of life we hold dear. Our country is blessed to have men and women who have always been willing to sacrifice to preserve it, including the sacrifice of being far away from home and hearth during what Andy Williams famously calls "The most wonderful time of the year."

Doug Gamble is a former writer for Bob Hope, as well as for former presidents Reagan and Bush 41. He is also the writer of the song, "It's Happening in Monterey," which made its radio debut on Dec. 4.
By Doug Gamble
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online