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Dec 13

Music Notes: Little-known facts about Irving Berlin's White Christmas

Posted on December 13, 2017 at 6:17 PM by Elizabeth Land

Now that the holiday season is upon us, we've been listening to a lot of seasonal music. We even created featured displays of our Christmas music collection at both libraries. But with the recent snow flurry, we only thought it appropriate to explore some little-known facts behind one of our favorite Christmas songs: White Christmas, composed by Irving Berlin.

White Christmas 
  • LP cover for White Christmas by Irving Berlin"White Christmas" was one of 1,500 songs written by Jewish songwriter Irving Berlin. It was conceived by Berlin on the set of the film "Top Hat" in 1935. The story goes that Berlin shouted to his musical secretary, Helmy Kresa: "Grab your pen and take down this song. It's the best song I ever wrote. Hell, it's the best song anybody ever wrote."
  • The song won the Academy Award for Best Song of 1942, maybe because it was the first Christmas American serviceman spent away from home in WWII. 
  • Irving Berlin originally wrote "White Christmas" for a Broadway musical that was never produced. It was then picked up by Hollywood producers who used it in "Holiday Inn", a 1942 film starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. “White Christmas” was the third of three films to feature Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas". The other two are "Holiday Inn" (1942) and "Blue Skies" (1946). 
  • Irving Berlin hated Elvis Presley's version of "White Christmas" so much that he tried to prevent radio stations from playing it, calling it a "profane parody of my cherished yuletide standard". 
  • In April 1975, the American military played "White Christmas" over Armed Forces Radio as a covert signal for soldiers in Vietnam to evacuate Saigon as the North Vietnamese surrounded the city. Their cue to leave was a radio announcement that the temperature in Saigon was "105 degrees and rising," followed by the playing of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." That was the signal for the mad dash to the U.S. Embassy, where helicopters were waiting. 
  • Bing Crosby's (1942) version of "White Christmas" is the highest-selling single of all time. Bing re-recorded the song on March 19, 1947, again with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra because the original masters had been worn out from all the pressings. This is the version that is most often heard today. 
  • Although Jewish, Berlin grew up celebrating the Christmas holiday by sneaking off to a neighbor's house to enjoy the festivities.
  • Many artists have recorded this song, but since 1963, only Michael Bolton has charted in the U.S. — #73 in 1992.  
  • The Holiday Inn hotel chain took its name from the movie — their first hotel/motel opened in August 1952. Sam Phillips of Sun Records was an early investor in the chain. 
  • Otis Redding recorded a soulful rendition, backed by Booker T. and the MG's, released in 1968, a year after his death. This version was featured in the 2003 movie "Love Actually". 
From the Library
York County Public Library has “White Christmas”, “Holiday Inn”, “Top Hat” and “Love Actually,” as well as a number of other Christmas films available for you to check out. Look for displays of Christmas music at both branches, or visit our online catalog to request a CD today!