(The following is an article in the November/December 2014 issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine. The issue can be read in its entirety here.)
As the holidays approach, the dream of a white Christmas is on many minds.
A white Christmas is the stuff that dreams are made of, at least according to composer and lyricist Irving Berlin (1888-1989).
Berlin’s “White Christmas” was written for the movie musical “Holiday Inn,” starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The first public performance of the song was by Crosby, on his NBC radio show “The Kraft Music Hall” on Christmas Day 1941. The song rapidly became a wartime tune for those fighting abroad and for those on the home front. By the time the film debuted in the summer of 1942, the song was on its way to becoming the best-selling single of all time. It garnered the Academy Award for Best Original Song of 1942.
The Irving Berlin Collection in the Library of Congress–750,000 items–documents all aspects of his life and career. The collection contains music scores, Berlin’s handwritten and typewritten lyric sheets, publicity and promotional materials, personal and professional correspondence, photographs, business papers, legal and financial records, scrapbooks filled with press clippings, awards and honors and artwork. Among these items is the lead sheet sketch of “White Christmas,” dated Jan. 8, 1940–though not in Berlin’s own hand since he didn’t write musical notation.
The popular song also became the inspiration for the 1954 movie musical, “White Christmas.” With a similar plot involving a country inn, “White Christmas” paired Crosby with Danny Kaye. Still images from the film came to the Library as part of the Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Collection.
The collection of more than 1,000 boxes of materials (sheet music, scripts, business papers, correspondence, photographs, recordings and videos) came to the Library in 1992. The Library’s 2013 exhibition “Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine: Two Kids from Brooklyn” featured items from the collection.
The original 1942 Bing Crosby recording of “White Christmas” was added to theNational Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in its inaugural year, 2002.
The opening verse, dropped from the original version, may prove that the song was written in California.
“The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.
There’s never been such a day
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it’s December the twenty-fourth,–
And I am longing to be up North–“