White Christmas (Irving Berlin) — 1940
White Christmas was introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1942 musical Holiday Inn. In the film, he sings it in a duet with Marjorie Reynolds. The song went on to receive the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Though Marjorie Reynolds was the actress playing Linda Mason, her voice was dubbed by Martha Mears for the movie. The familiar version of “White Christmas” most often heard today is not the one Crosby recorded in 1942. He was called to Decca studios on March 18, 1947, to re-record the track; the 1942 master had become damaged due to its frequent use. Efforts were made to exactly reproduce the original recording session, and Crosby was again backed by the Trotter Orchestra and the Darby Singers.Even so, there are subtle differences in the orchestration, most notably the addition of a celesta and flutes to brighten up the introduction.
Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds in Holiday Inn (1942)
Bing Crosby and the Ken Darby Singers — 1947
Crosby’s recording with the Ken Darby Singers on Song Hits from Holiday Inn (Decca), often rereleased, frequently number one on the popular music charts, is one of the bestselling recordings of all time and was Berlin’s biggest hit.
As Berlin recalled in the Los Angeles Examiner (December 14, 1954):
“I wrote it for a revue I intended producing, changed my mind and put it away until it was used in a Bing Crosby picture. At the time I had no idea “White Christmas” would be a perennial hit or that Paramount would add to its popularity with a movie of the same name.
When the song first became popular, I attributed it to the War and the fact that Christmas means peace. I felt that since people were singing I ought to write another verse. But I couldn’t do it. New words would not come.”
“Much as I’d like to take a bow and say I anticipated its future success, I must admit I didn’t, ” Berlin told the Jamaica (Long Island) Press (September 24, 1954). “Maybe because it was so easy, comparatively, to write I didn’t realize its potential. I wrote it in two rather brief sessions and that’s fast for a song. Some take a lot more time.”
According to Erskine Johnson (Los Angeles Mirror, December 21, 1954), the melody was written in August 1938, then left on the shelf for four years (actually two years) until Berlin was signed by Paramount to write Holiday Inn [He signed an exclusive contract to write songs for the proposed film in May 1940, a year and a half before filming began]. Berlin told Johnson: “I took it off the shelf and polished the lyrics a little, and went to Bing’s dressing room at Paramount to get his okay on all the songs for the picture. I was nervous as a rabbit smelling stew. I sang several melodies and Bing nodded quiet approval. But when I did ‘White Christmas’ he came to life and said, ‘Irving, you won’t have to worry about that one.'” – from The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin, pp. 350-351)
Johnnie “Scat” Davis – 1942
Jascha Heifetz (violin) with orchestral accompaniment- recorded 17 October 1944
The Ink Spots – 1947
Charlie Parker (saxophone) with Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Al Haig (piano), Tommy Potter (double bass), Max Roach (drums) — Christmas morning broadcast – 1948
The Drifters – 1954
The Drifters’ 1954 cover of “White Christmas” showcased the talents of lead singer Clyde McPhatter and the bass of Bill Pinkney. Their recording of the song peaked at #2 on Billboard’s R&B chart in December 1954, and returned to the same chart in the next two years. In December 1955, “White Christmas” became the Drifters’ first of 34 singles to register in the mainstream Hot 100 chart.
From the film White Christmas (1954)
(Below) Earlier in the film, Bing Crosby sings White Christmas to a small group of soldiers in the field as the sound of bombs exploding is heard in the background. In the following clip, the song is reprised during the finale by Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen (dubbed by Trudy Stevens).
Andy Williams – 1963
Dean Martin – 1966 (?)
(above) Sinatra and Martin family members join for the Christmas episode of the Dean Martin Show, “Christmas with the Martins and Sinatras”, which aired on 21 December 1967
Otis Redding — issued in November 1968 on the single Atco 45-6631, b/w “Merry Christmas, Baby”
- Also available as a sound file @ Old School Music Lover.
Selected recordings of versions in other languages
Weiße Weihnacht – German text by Bruno Balz
Zarah Leander – 1953
Noël blanc — French text by Francis Blanche
Dalida – 1960 — EP, Barclay 70348
Jean Sablon – 1963
Tino Rossi – 1971
Witte Kerstmis — Dutch text by Nelly Byl
Will Tura – 1973