The Christmas classic with a controversial past

“No one embraced Christmas like my father did,” said Nancy Sinatra of Frank, a singer who continues to indelibly associated with the holiday season.

One of Frank SinatraHer first Christmas songs were a version of the Victorian classic “Jingle Bells,” which she first recorded in 1948, happily singing the famous lines “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way/Oh, what fun is to ride in a one horse open sleigh” on a hot August day. That original version featured the late great Axel Stordahl’s sophisticated arrangements, and is still played around Christmas trees today.

A controversial past

At the time, “Jingle Bells”, written by James Lord Pierpont, was considered a festive standard. But it began in 1857 as a song called “One Horse Open Sleigh,” a slightly bawdy romantic song about an unaccompanied ride. It was first performed, in blackface, by Johnny Pell at Ordway’s minstrel hall in Massachusetts. The song’s current title only began to take hold two years later, when Pierpoint changed the name and copyrighted it as “Jingle Bells”, and it was sung in thanksgiving services. The main line was inspired by the sound of rattles on horse harnesses, which were used to try to help avoid collisions in the snow in the mid-19th century. (The song was originally about an accident.)

Former church organist Pierpont was a disreputable and controversial figure. Shortly before writing the song, he had become a widower. He left his two children in Boston to move to Savannah, Georgia, where he had several more children by a second wife. He later joined the First Georgia Cavalry in the Civil War, writing songs in support of Confederate soldiers fighting to defend slavery.

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Although “Jingle Bells” became a Yuletide staple, there was no mention of Christmas in the original lyrics. In fact, some of the words, with lesser-known verses describing luring pretty girls with a fast sleigh, were considered by fervent parishioners to be too risqué to sing in church. Yes, “running for the hills” is relatively picturesque. But this is not a “Silent Night”. Pierpont’s original has lyrics about a Miss Fanny Bright and the advice to “Do it while you’re young/Take the girls tonight”, which doesn’t usually appear on modern hit versions of the song.

A classic of popular music

Despite its strange origins, the song has become a global favorite. After a successful version of Bing Crosby And The Andrew Sisters, Sinatra decided to record his version of “Jingle Bells” in the 1940s. He followed this with another version in 1957, the year Frank Sinatra’s first Christmas special was recorded. for television, for the Capitol Records album. A Merry Christmas by Frank Sinatra. His 1950s version was arranged by Gordon Jenkins, with a brilliant orchestra conducted by Nelson Riddle.

“Jingle Bells” has also attracted countless prominent jazz musicians, including duke ellington, base count, Anita O’DayGene Krupa, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dave Brubeck, who recorded their own versions. organ teacher jimmy smith cut a wonderfully funky instrumental version for their album Verve Records Christmas ’64. When Decca brought Louis Armstrong Heading into the studio to record some Christmas cheer, he opened the song “Christmas In New Orleans” with a short sample of “Jingle Bells.”

Pierpont died in 1893 without making much money from “Jingle Bells.” He ended his days teaching piano to make ends meet. Now the song is an absolute classic of popular music and would have made him a billionaire.

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Outside of the world of jazz, “Jingle Bells” has been recorded by thousands of artists, including The Beatles, smoky robinson, Y etta james. Its popularity shows no signs of waning: there have been 21st century versions of lady to, James Taylor, and Brad Paisley.

This Christmas tune is so popular, in fact, that two astronauts, Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra, played a version for mission control on the harmonica while aboard Gemini 6 in 1965, claiming it was leaving polar orbit. . Talk about a unique way to wish someone a Merry Christmas!

Looking for more? Discover the best Christmas songs of all time.

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