Wednesday, December 23, 2020

I’ll Be Home For Christmas—Murfin’s Carols for Corona and Winter Holiday Music Festival

                                            I'll Be Home for Christmas by Bing Crosby.

There was a whole genre of World War II separation songs that have become enduring classics of 20th Century popular music.  Think I’ll Be Seeing You, The White Cliffs of Dover, and Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree to name just a few examples.  And of course there was a sub-genre of Christmas songs.  Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, the most popular adult secular holiday song of all time, was written before the American entry into the War inspired by a hot day in Los Angeles.  But its record release by Bing Crosby in late 1941 and his crooning the tune in Paramount Picture’s Holiday Inn in 1942 struck a nerve with G.I.s far from home and many in desert or tropical locations.  I have written about how my Father, W.M. Murfin played it for the men of his Army Field Hospital and its patients in North Africa in ’42.

But another Crosby recording struck an even more direct chord with GIs and their families back home—I’ll Be Home For Christmas and this year of Coronavirus forced separations makes it more relevant than ever.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas was written by lyricist Kim Gannon and composer Walter Kent and recorded on October 1, 1943 by Bing Crosby with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra on Decca Records. Within a month of release, the song charted for 11 weeks, with a peak at #3. The next year, it reached #16.   It soon became a perennial on Christmas radio and after Billboard established a separate seasonal chart for air play it was frequently near the top.  The song was also featured on Crosby’s famous 1945 78 rpm album and it’s LP release in 1949 which has itself been re-released and re-mastered several more times.

The original 1947 78 rpm cover of Crosby's Merry Christmas album.  The more familiar LP release featured him in his Santa cap.

Crosby won his fifth Gold Record and it became the most requested song at Christmas U.S.O. shows. The GI magazine Yank said Crosby “accomplished more for military morale than anyone else of that era.”  But the British feared the song would actually lower morale and initially banned it on the BBC.  After the tide turned in the Allies favor, the ban was lifted.

After the initial release there was a copyright dispute when Buck Ram, later the manager and producer of The Platters said he had previously written a poem with the same name and theme.  Although the lyrics and music of the released version were entirely different, Decca lawyers feared that they could not prove that Gannon and Kent may not have been inspired by the title.  After the initial release Ram was credited as a co-writer and shared in the considerable royalties the song generated.

Bing Crosby on a USO tour in Europe. 

I’ll Be Home for Christmas has been covered by many most notably by Johnny Mathis on his seminal Merry Christmas album in 1958.  Other covers have included The Carpenters, Elvis Presley, Reba McIntyre, Rascal Flats, Josh Groban, Michael Bublé, and Kelly Clarkson.

 As fine as many of those versions are, Der Bingle’s remains the most heartfelt.

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