Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: With great interest, I read your recent column about “The Little Drummer Boy. And although your answer to the matter of the Harry Simeone Choral and the Johnny Cash recordings is correct, Harry Simeone did not release the first recording of the song.

What's more, Harry Simeone did not even co-write it, as is commonly thought. His writing credit comes about through the magic of publication, not composition.

My father, Jack Halloran, did the original choral arrangement and recorded it for Dot Records in 1957 (one year before Simeone), with the title “Carol of the Drum.”

This is its original name, as a Czech carol — simplistically arranged for church choirs by Katherine K. Davis — as found on the 1957 “Christmas is a-Comin'” album by the Jack Halloran Singers.

One of the producers on the project was Henry Onorati, who took the chart from the original recording session to Harry Simeone, urging him to record it and get it out before the Dot release.

Simeone made a minimal number of changes to the chart, added finger cymbals (my father's version is a cappella), changed the title, hired all the same singers, and recorded it.

Dot unfortunately didn't put the single out for the 1957 Christmas season, and Simeone succeeded in getting composing credit (along with Henry Onorati and Katherine K. Davis) for a piece he had nothing to do with.

My father's album was repackaged in 1959, with the title changed to “The Little Drummer Boy,” but by then it was too late. Credit for “The Little Drummer Boy” will always remain with Harry Simeone.
—Dawn Halloran Charouhas.

DEAR DAWN: Thanks to you for providing some fascinating, previously unknown background on one of the most famous Christmas tunes of all time.

After a bit of research, I found the selection numbers for the Dot releases you mention. “Christmas Is a-Comin'” is Dot DLP-3076. The repackaged “Little Drummer Boy” LP is DLP-3233/25233 (Mono/Stereo), and the 1961 “Little Drummer Boy” single, backed with “Mary's Little Boy Chile,” is Dot 16275.

DEAR JERRY: The first time I heard Brenda Lee singing “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree,” I thought it was one of the greatest records ever made — Christmas or otherwise. That was around 1961, or '62.

My husband, who is a tad my senior, says this tune was really from the mid-'50s, and that it was already an oldie but goodie when I first heard it.

He also says you can confirm all of this, and so we ask you to set the record on this record straight.
—Judy Bonham, Benton, Ky.

DEAR JUDY: For you two Bonhams, and for Nicki Fuller, who sent an e-mail asking a similar question about this holiday classic, here is the straight scoop.

Except for the ever-so-slight slip-up in calling 1958 the mid-'50s, hubby has this one nailed.

Brenda's first release of “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree” came along in November 1958, just shortly after Johnny Marks wrote the tune.

When you hear “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree” being played this year — as you surely will — that will make 43 consecutive years it has brightened the holiday season.

IZ ZAT SO? “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree” is Brenda Lee's best-known Christmas song, but it is not her first.

That would be “I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus,” backed with “Christy Christmas,” issued in 1956, with credits reading “Little Brenda Lee” (Decca 88215).

Return to "Mr. Music" Home Page