This carol, familiar to every ear and sung by nearly every Christmas choir, was originally a Czech lullaby by Miss Jakubickova. Later, English words were added by Percy Dearmer in 1918 for the official Oxford Book of Carols. However, as we know it today, the song sounds very different from the original lullaby from Czech. This is because the lullaby morphed significantly when it was later adapted into a carol by Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941.
The Carol of The Drum
K K Davis, who wrote hymns and songs mainly for amateur and girls’ choirs, was working on the lullaby adaptation she called The Carol of The Drum in 1941. The drums of that largely make the song what it is, were not originally meant to be in the song. Davis, inserted them during rehearsal, attempting to harmonize the chorus with a soprano melody, and an alto harmony, added the percussion. It fit so well that the drums became a permanent accompaniment to the hymn. However, it wasn’t until ten years later that The Carol of The Drum become popular. The Carol of The Drum was first recorded in 1951 by Davis. The song caught the attention of The Austrian Trapp Family Singers who rerecorded the song in 1955 with a slightly different arrangement. The hymn was recorded again in 1957 by The Jack Halloran Singers, again, with a slightly different arrangement. Seeing the popularity build for the song, 20th Century Fox then picked it up and commissioned artist Harry Simeone Chorale to record it as a part of his Christmas album in 1958. Making some alterations to the Halloran version, Simeone retitled the hymn, The Little Drummer Boy. https://youtu.be/R6vGGKchcdQ The Little Drummer Boy was, and Simeone’s Christmas album was a huge hit, making the U.S. singles charts for four consecutive years. Semeone ended up recording the song two other time during his music career, and of course scores have recorded The Little Drummer Boy, and every child and Christmas choir has sung the hymn countless times since. My personal favorite version of the hymn is a mashup performed by Bing Crosby & David Bowie in 1977. David Bowie, being the artist that he was, took some liberties to add a completely new piece, combining Little Drummer Boy with Peace on Earth written especially for the duet by Ian Fraser, Larry Grossman, and Alan Kohan. The song went on to become one of the most popular Christmas duets of Christmas music history. https://youtu.be/n9kfdEyV3RQ