‘White Christmas’ — The Story Behind the Song
Did you know that the Bing Crosby's Christmas classic has sold over 100 million copies? Those figures are only for the Bing Crosby version of the song. If you add in the hundreds of other versions of the song, the sales figures go up by about another 50 million. The song itself has quite a story behind it.
People can't seem to agree where the song was actually written, but the most popular version says that Irving Berlin wrote the song on New Year's Day of 1940 while staying in Banning, California. Legend has it that Berlin awoke to snow flurries which do happen from time to time near Banning. Berlin was so excited that he reportedly told his secretary, "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!"
A lot of folks think the song was written for the movie "Holiday Inn", but the song was first performed by Bing on his radio show on Christmas day in 1941, but the song wasn't an instant hit. In may of 1942, Bing did another recording of the song in only 18 minutes! Still, the song didn't take the country by storm.
Even when the song was included in the movie "Holiday Inn", it was not predicted to be the hit it became. Another song from the holiday classic, "Be Careful it's My Heart" was picked to be the hit from the movie. Not only that, but the folks behind the movie has wanted Crosby's co-star Marilyn Maxwell to sing the song in the movie. By the way, Marilyn Maxwell wasn't a singer and her singing voice in the movie was dubbed in by another singer by the name of Martha Mears!
That year, "White Christmas" won the Academy Award for the Best Song and the rest, as they say, is history. World War II was going on at the time and the wistfulness and thoughts of home in the song really struck a chord with the American listeners as well as with the troops overseas.
The song took off and stayed at the top of the charts for 11 weeks. Of course, the song popped up every year for several years after that and each time it did, it sold well. For his part, Crosby didn't think the song would be a massive hit. He thought it was a nice enough song, but that was about it. Crosby was also pretty modest about his contribution to the song. He is quoted as saying, "a jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully." A Jackdaw, by the way, is a common bird.
Crosby recorded the song several times over his career, but the most common version is one recorded in 1947. The original recording from 1941 still exists, but is in very bad shape after all those decades of play. The record is still owned by the Bing Crosby Estate. By the way; as if Crosby didn't make several fortunes with that song and his other hits, but he was also the owner of Minute Maid Orange Juice.