Bing & Bowie: the story behind "The Little Drummer Boy" duet

I remember seeing this when I was a freshman in college, when it first aired, and thinking: “This is so COOL.”  Well, some people now consider it camp.  But I still think it’s cool — and a classic.

The other night, ABC News did a very good report about how this now-famous duet came together.  Check it out. The Washington Post also had a more detailed report on this a few years back.

But check out the original, with Bowie and Bing, below.

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  1. I remember watching this when it first aired.

  2. So now that Bowie is the “aged Establishment” will he be recording a new version with some other up-and-comer?

  3. Bowie’s been around THAT long?
    I thought it was pretty until it became ubiquitous at Christmastime, but do like the change from choirboys to the version by the late Johnnie Cash.
    It is sort of jarring though, as a communion song during Mass.

  4. Very good. Thank you for posting this gem.

  5. santa's helper says:

    what IS the story? this is just the video.

  6. The Little Drummer Boy SONG HISTORY (STORY FOLLOWS)
    This article is about the Christmas song. For the movie about a little drummer boy who doesn’t want to grow up, see The Tin Drum (film). For The 1968 stop motion animated film, see The Little Drummer Boy (TV special).
    “The Little Drummer Boy,” also known as “Carol of the Drum,” is a popular Christmas song written by pianist Katherine K. Davis in 1941.[1] It was popularized with a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale and has been adapted many times since.[2]

    The lyrics tell of a poor young boy who, unable to afford a gift for the infant Jesus, plays his drum for the newborn with the Virgin Mary’s approval. The newborn seems to understand and smiles at the boy in gratitude.

    [edit] OriginsThe story is somewhat similar to an 12th century legend retold by Anatole France as Le Jongleur de Notre Dame (French: Our Lady’s Juggler), which was adapted into an opera in 1902 by Jules Massenet. In the French legend, however, a juggler juggles before the statue of the Virgin Mary, and the statue, according to which version of the legend one reads, either smiles at him or throws him a rose (or both, as in the 1984 television film, The Juggler of Notre Dame.)

    The song, originally titled “Carol of the Drum,” was based on a traditional Czech carol.[3]

    In 1957, the hitherto obscure song was re-arranged by Henry Onorati for a recording by the Jack Halloran Singers on Dot Records, but this version was not released in time for Christmas. The following year, 20th Century Fox Records contracted Onorati’s friend Harry Simeone to make a Christmas album. As Simeone was looking for material, Onorati introduced him to the “Carol of the Drum.” Simeone re-arranged the song, retitled it “The Little Drummer Boy,” and recorded it with the Harry Simeone Chorale on the album Sing We Now of Christmas. The song was jointly credited to Simeone and Onorati, even though they had only arranged it.[2]

    The album and the song were an enormous success, with the single scoring on the U.S. music charts from 1958 to 1962. In 1963, the album was reissued under the title The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival in order to boost sales even higher by capitalizing on the single’s popularity. The following year, the album was released in stereo. In the 1980s, The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival was released on CD by Casablanca Records.[2]

    Harry Simeone, who in 1964 had signed with Kapp Records, recorded a new version of “The Little Drummer Boy” in 1965 for his album O’ Bambino – The Little Drummer Boy.[2]

    ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ STORY

    David grew up in the kitchen of the inn. His father was the innkeeper. His mother cooked the food. David’s older sisters cleaned the rooms, and his older brother swept the stable. David loved to sing. He would sing to his mother as she cooked the food. David made up songs and banged on pots and bowls as he sang to her. David’s mother smiled at him. “Someday you will sing in the temple, my son,” his mother said. David grinned at his mother. “Tem-ple,” David said very carefully.

    David’s father came into the kitchen. “How is my big boy?” David’s father asked as he swung David onto his shoulders. “Pum Pum Pum! Tem-ple come!” David sang as he drummed on his father’s head with a wooden spoon. David’s father smiled as his son kept on drumming. “We must find this boy a drum or my poor head will not survive!” said David’s father, with a laugh.

    A few years later David got a small drum for his birthday. Soon he was beating rhythms on his drum wherever he went. Pat-a-rum, pat-a-rum, pat-a-rum, David drummed to copy the donkeys on the road. Swish-click-click-tum, swish-click-click-tum, went David’s drumming to copy his brother sweeping straw in the stable.

    One day David’s father said to his family, “We are going to be very busy. Caesar Augustus has ordered a count of all the families in all the towns.” “Pum Pum. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum. I counted six of us!” David sang. “Why does this make us busy?” “Because people will come to Bethlehem to be counted with their families,” said David’s father. “They will need a place to stay. They will stay with us, and we will be very busy.”

    David’s mother cooked more food. David’s sisters cleaned the rooms. David’s brother swept out the stable and put new hay and pots of water in the stalls. David’s father greeted the people as they came into town. Soon the inn was very full. David played his drum and sang his songs for the people.

    Late one night there was a knock at the door. David peeked around his father at the young man and his wife, who was on a donkey. They had no room for these people! What could they do? David’s father was a kind man. “You can stay in the stable,” he said. “It is warm and dry there. I can send food out to you.” The young man thanked David’s father and walked the donkey to the stable.

    David helped his mother carry bread and cheese out to the young couple. His mother told him the woman was going to have a baby soon. The next day there was a lot of excitement. “The young woman who stayed in the stable last night had her baby,” David’s mother told him. “The baby is the King of Kings, they say!” said David’s father.

    ©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
    David gave the gift of song to Baby Jesus.

    David could not see the baby because of the crowd around the stable. David stood at the back of the crowd and began to make up a song for the baby: “Come, they told me, our newborn king to see. Our finest gifts we bring to lay before the king. So to honor him when we come.”

    The crowd began to part when they heard David’s beautiful singing: “Baby Jesus, I am a poor boy, too. I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give a king. Shall I play for you on my drum?”

    David stepped closer to Mary, Joseph, and their son. Baby Jesus smiled at David, reached out, and patted his drum.

    Love, spirit, and the beat of his drum brought one little boy closer to the infant Jesus. Continue to the next page to Read ‘The Wishing Star,’ and learn how hope, love, and a shining star helped bring another little boy closer to someone he loved — on Christmas Eve.


  8. THIS IS A GREAT SONG. LOVE THE DUET! I love listening to Bing and with Bowie they are great!


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