The Story of... 'White Christmas' by Bing Crosby

15 December 2018, 19:47 | Updated: 19 December 2018, 12:10

White Christmas
Picture: Universal

By Tom Eames

"Just like the ones we used to know..."

It's one of the most famous songs of all time, and the Christmas song which all since have been judged against.

But who wrote the song and what inspired it? Here's all the big facts:

  1. Who wrote 'White Christmas'?

    Irving Berlin in 1935
    Irving Berlin in 1935. Picture: Getty

    Songwriter Irving Berlin wrote the song while reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting.

    It is not known exactly when and where Berlin wrote the song. One story goes that he wrote it in 1940, in sunny La Quinta, California, while staying at the La Quinta Hotel.

    He is said to have his secretary one night: "Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I've ever written—heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody's ever written!"

    Another story goes that it conceived by Berlin on the set of the film Top Hat in 1935. He hummed the melody to Fred Astaire and the film's director Mark Sandrich as a potential song for a future Astaire-Ginger Rogers film.

    Astaire loved the tune, but Sandrich passed on it. Berlin's next assignment for Paramount Pictures was to write a song about each of the major holidays of the year, which would become 1942's Holiday Inn.

    He found that writing a song about Christmas was difficult, due to his Jewish upbringing.

  2. When did Bing Crosby first record it?

    The first public performance of the song was by Bing Crosby, on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas Day, 1941.

    He later recorded the song with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers in just 18 minutes on May 29, 1942, and it was released on July 30 as part of an album from the musical film Holiday Inn.

  3. Bing didn't like it at first

    When Bing Crosby first heard Berlin play the song in 1941 at the first rehearsals, he did not immediately recognise its full potential.

    Crosby simply said: "I don't think we have any problems with that one, Irving."

    'White Christmas' was not deemed to be the main hit from the film, and instead the song 'Be Careful, It's My Heart', played during the Valentine's Day section of the film, was intended to be a bigger hit.

  4. How did it perform in the charts?

    The song initially performed poorly, but by the end of October 1942, it topped the Your Hit Parade chart in the US.

    It remained in that position until well into 1943, and it resonated strongly with listeners during World War II.

    A few weeks after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Crosby introduced the song on a Christmas Day broadcast. The Armed Forces Network was flooded with requests for the song.

    In 1942 alone, the song spent 11 weeks on top of the Billboard charts. Later re-released, it returned to number one in 1945 and 1946.

    In the UK, the song was released before the first chart in 1952. A re-release in 1977 (the year of Crosby's death), it reached number five.

  5. Which version is the most well-known?

    The version most often heard today, is the 1947 re-recording.

    The 1942 original was damaged due to overuse at the time. Crosby re-recorded the track on March 19, 1947, accompanied by the Trotter Orchestra and the Darby Singers, where they attempted to reproduce the original recording session.

    The re-recording is known for its addition of flutes and celesta in the beginning.

  6. It inspired the movie of the same name

    The song would later feature in another Crosby film, the 1954 musical White Christmas, which became the highest-grossing film of the year.

    For it, Crosby made yet another studio recording of the song, accompanied by Joseph J Lilley's orchestra and chorus.

  7. The original song has forgotten lyrics

    Bing Crosby originally sang the song from the perspective of a New Yorker stranded in sunny California during Christmas.

    In the film, the song begins with this verse:

    The sun is shining, the grass is green
    The orange and palm trees sway
    There's never been such a day
    In Beverly Hills, LA
    But it's December the 24th
    And I'm longing to be up north

  8. How many copies has it sold?

    Bing Crosby's version is the world's best-selling single with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide.

    Other versions of the song, alongside Crosby's, have also sold over 50 million copies.

  9. Who else has covered it?

    Countless artists have covered the song over the years. Among these, include:

    - Frank Sinatra
    - Perry Como
    - Andy Williams
    - Otis Redding (used in Love Actually)
    - The Drifters (used in Home Alone)
    - Michael Bolton
    - Bette Midler
    - Andrea Boccelli
    - Michael Bublé
    - Lady Gaga
    - Elvis Presley
    - Eric Clapton

  10. 'White Christmas' lyrics:

    I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
    Just like the ones I used to know
    Where the treetops glisten
    And children listen
    To hear sleigh bells in the snow

    I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
    With every Christmas card I write
    May your days be merry and bright
    And may all your Christmases be white

    I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
    Just like the ones I used to know
    Where the treetops glisten
    And children listen
    To hear sleigh bells in the snow

    I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
    With every Christmas card I write
    May your days be merry and bright
    And may all your Christmases be white