"White Christmas"

"White Christmas" is a 1942 Irving Berlin song reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting. The version sung by Bing Crosby is the world's best-selling single with estimated sales in excess of 100 million copies worldwide.[1] Other versions of the song, along with Crosby's, have sold over 50 million copies.[2][3][4]


Accounts vary as to when and where Berlin wrote the song.[5] One story is that he wrote it in 1940, in warm La Quinta, California, while staying at the La Quinta Hotel, a frequent Hollywood retreat also favored by writer-director-producer Frank Capra, although the Arizona Biltmore also claims the song was written there.[6] He often stayed up all night writing—he 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!"[7]

Bing Crosby version

1945 V-Disc release by the U.S. Army of "White Christmas" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Bing Crosby as No. 441B.
File:Single Bing Crosby - White Christmas cover.jpg
Picture sleeve of 1959 reissue by Decca Records (9-23778)

The first public performance of the song was by Bing Crosby, on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas Day, 1941; a copy of the recording from the radio program is owned by Crosby's estate and was loaned to CBS News Sunday Morning for their December 25, 2011, program.[5] He subsequently recorded the song with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers and for Decca Records in just 18 minutes on May 29, 1942, and it was released on July 30 as part of an album of six 78-rpm discs from the musical film Holiday Inn.[5][8] At first, Crosby did not see anything special about the song. He just said "I don't think we have any problems with that one, Irving."[9] The song established and solidified the fact that there could be commercially successful secular Christmas songs[10]—in this case, written by a Jewish-American songwriter.

The song initially performed poorly and was overshadowed by Holiday Inn's first hit song: "Be Careful, It's My Heart".[8] By the end of October 1942, "White Christmas" topped the Your Hit Parade chart. It remained in that position until well into the new year.[8] It has often been noted that the mix of melancholy—"just like the ones I used to know"—with comforting images of home—"where the treetops glisten"—resonated especially strongly with listeners during World War II. A few weeks after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Crosby introduced "White Christmas" on a Christmas Day broadcast.[11] The Armed Forces Network was flooded with requests for the song. The recording is noted for Crosby's whistling during the second chorus.[8]

In 1942 alone, Crosby's recording spent eleven weeks on top of the Billboard charts. The original version also hit number one on the Harlem Hit Parade for three weeks,[12] Crosby's first-ever appearance on the black-oriented chart. Re-released by Decca, the single returned to the No. 1 spot during the holiday seasons of 1945 and 1946 (on the chart dated January 4, 1947), thus becoming the only single with three separate runs at the top of the U.S. charts. The recording became a chart perennial, reappearing annually on the pop chart twenty separate times before Billboard magazine created a distinct Christmas chart for seasonal releases.

In Holiday Inn, the composition won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1942.[13] In the film, Crosby sings "White Christmas" as a duet with actress Marjorie Reynolds, though her voice was dubbed by Martha Mears. This now-familiar scene was not the moviemakers' initial plan. In the script as originally conceived, Reynolds, not Crosby, would sing the song.[8] The song would feature in another Crosby film, the 1954 musical White Christmas, which became the highest-grossing film of 1954. (Crosby made yet another studio recording of the song, accompanied by Joseph J. Lilley's orchestra and chorus, for the film's soundtrack album.)

The version most often heard today on radio during the Christmas season is the 1947 re-recording. The 1942 master was damaged due to frequent use. Crosby re-recorded the track on March 19, 1947, accompanied again by the Trotter Orchestra and the Darby Singers, with every effort made to reproduce the original recording session.[7] The re-recording is recognizable by the addition of flutes and celesta in the beginning.

Although Crosby dismissed his role in the song's success, saying later that "a jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully," he was associated with it for the rest of his career.

Formats and track listing

These are the formats and track listings of single releases of "White Christmas".

10" shellac single – U.S. (Decca – 18429)[14][15]
1."White Christmas"Irving Berlin3:02
2."Let's Start The New Year Right"Irving Berlin 
CD single – UK (MCA Records – MCSTD48105)[16]
1."White Christmas"Irving Berlin3:06
2."Auld Lang Syne"Traditional1:38
3."Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy"Henry W. Longfellow, K.Davis/H.Onorati2:37

Sales figures

Crosby's "White Christmas" single has been credited with selling 50 million copies, the most by any release and therefore it is the biggest-selling single worldwide of all time. The Guinness Book of World Records 2009 Edition lists the song as a 100-million seller, encompassing all versions of the song, including albums.[4][5] Crosby's holiday collection Merry Christmas was first released as an LP in 1949, and has never been out of print since.

There has been confusion and debate on whether Crosby's record is or is not the best-selling single, due to a lack of information on sales of "White Christmas," because Crosby's recording was released before the advent of the modern-day US and UK singles charts.[17] However, after careful research, Guinness World Records in 2007 concluded that, worldwide, Crosby's recording of "White Christmas" has, in their estimation, sold at least 50 million copies, and that Elton John's recording of "Candle in the Wind 1997" has sold 33 million, making Crosby's recording the best-selling single of all time.[2] However, an update in the 2009 edition of the book decided to further help settle the controversy amicably by naming both John's and Crosby's songs to be "winners" by stating that John's recording is the "best-selling single since UK and US singles charts began in the 1950s," while maintaining that "the best-selling single of all time was released before the first pop charts," and that this distinction belongs to "White Christmas," which it says "was listed as the world's best-selling single in the first-ever Guinness Book of Records (published in 1955) and—remarkably—still retains the title more than 50 years later."[18]


In 1999, National Public Radio included it in the "NPR 100", which sought to compile the one hundred most important American musical works of the 20th century. Crosby's version of the song also holds the distinction of being ranked No. 2 on the "Songs of the Century" list, behind only Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow," as voted by members of the RIAA.[19] In 2002, the original 1942 version was one of 50 historically significant recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. In 2004, it finished at No. 5 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.

The recording was broadcast on Armed Forces Radio on April 30, 1975, as a secret, pre-arranged signal precipitating the U.S. evacuation from Saigon.[20]

Original verse

Irving Berlin's opening verse is often dropped in recordings. It is included on A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, sung by Darlene Love; on Barbra Streisand's A Christmas Album; on the Carpenters' Christmas Portrait, sung by Karen Carpenter; on Neil Diamond's The Christmas Album; on Bette Midler's Cool Yule; on Libera's Christmas Album; and on Crash Test Dummies' Jingle All the Way.[7]

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—[21]


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[22] Gold 45,000
Sweden (GLF)[23] Platinum 50,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Other versions

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (May 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

"White Christmas" is the most-recorded Christmas song; there have been more than 500 recorded versions of the song, in several different languages.[24] The following have received some charting success.

Gordon Jenkins and his Orchestra (with Bob Carroll on lead vocal) released a version (Capitol F-124) that reached No. 16 on Billboard magazine's pop singles chart in 1942[25] and Charlie Spivak and his Orchestra (with Garry Stevens on lead vocal) released a version that reached No. 18 on Billboard's pop singles chart[26] as did Freddy Martin and his Orchestra (with Clyde Rogers on lead vocal), reaching No. 20 on Billboard's pop singles chart (and again in December 1945, reaching No. 16).[27]

In 1944, Frank Sinatra with a backing orchestration under the direction of Axel Stordahl reached No. 7 on Billboard's pop singles chart (two more times: December 1945, No. 5; December 1946, No. 6)[28] Jo Stafford reaching No. 9 on Billboard's pop singles chart in 1946, with backing vocals by the Lyn Murray Singers and backing orchestration by Paul Weston.[26] Eddy Howard and his Orchestra released a version that reached No. 21 on Billboard's pop singles chart the same year[29] while Perry Como, with backing orchestration by Lloyd Shaffer, reachead No. 23 on Billboard's pop singles chart.[30]

In 1949 The Ravens peacked at No. 9 on Billboard's Rhythm & Blues Records chart in January 1949[31] while Ernest Tubb, with female backing vocals by The Troubadettes, peaked at No. 7 on Billboard's Country & Western Records chart.[32]

In 1952 Mantovani and his orchestra reached No. 23 on Billboard's pop singles chart[27] while The Drifters showcased the talents of lead singer Clyde McPhatter and the bass vocals of Bill Pinkney in 1954, peaking at No. 2 on Billboard's Rhythm & Blues Records chart. It returned to the same chart in the next two years.[33] The Drifters rendition of this song can be heard in Home Alone

Andy Williams recorded it in 1963's, The Andy Williams Christmas Album, where ir reached No. 1 on Billboard's special, year-end, weekly Christmas Singles chart. It was released in 1968 as a posthumous single from Otis Redding, and reached No. 12 on the Christmas Singles chart[31] In 1980, Darts's version peaked at No. 48 on the UK singles chart.

Michael Bolton performed it on his 1992 non-holiday album, Timeless: The Classics, where it peaked at No. 73 on Billboard's Hot 100 Airplay chart in January 1993.[34] Garth Brooks version included on his first holiday album, Beyond the Season, peaked at No. 70 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart in January 1995.[35] In Martina McBride recorded it for, White Christmas, charting twice, reaching No. 75 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart in 1999, and No. 62 on the same chart in 2000[36]

Bette Midler's version, released on her non-holiday album, Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook, reached No. 15 on Billboard's Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart in 2003.[37] The version released on Andrea Bocelli 2009 album, My Christmas, reached No. 16 on the Portuguese Singles Chart.[38] Despite not being released as a single, Marco Mengoni's version, released on the compilation album X Factor – The Christmas Album, charted at No. 13 on the Italian Singles Chart based on digital downloads of the track.[39]

Notes and references

  1. ^ http://www.pjstar.com/article/20141031/Entertainment/141039841
  2. ^ a b Guinness Book of Records, 2007 Edition, page 187
  3. ^ Guinness Book of Records, 2008 Edition, page 181
  4. ^ a b Guinness Book of Records, 2009 Edition, pages 14, 15 & 169
  5. ^ a b c d Roy J. Harris, Jr. (December 5, 2009). "The Best-Selling Record of All. 'White Christmas' and the reasons it endures". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-12-06. It was a peaceful song that became a wartime classic. Its unorthodox, melancholy melody, and mere 54 words, expressing the simple yearning for a return to happier times—sounded instantly familiar when sung by America's favorite crooner. But 67 years after its introduction, some still are surprised to learn that Bing Crosby's recording of the Irving Berlin ballad "White Christmas" became not only the runaway smash-hit for the World War II holidays, but the best-selling record of all time.
  6. ^ "History of ""The Jewel of the Desert"" | Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel". Arizonabiltmore.com. Retrieved 2013-11-13.
  7. ^ a b c White Christmas
  8. ^ a b c d e John Mueller (1986). Astaire Dancing – The Musical Films. London: Hamish Hamilton. pp. 204, 425. ISBN 0-241-11749-6.
  9. ^ Wook Kim (Dec 17, 2012). "Yule Laugh, Yule Cry: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Beloved Holiday Songs (With holiday cheer in the air, TIME takes a closer look at some of the weird stories behind our favorite seasonal tunes)". TIME."White Christmas" (p. 6)
  10. ^ https://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/no-one-dreamed-of-a-white-christmas-before-this-song/
  11. ^ Todd Decker. "Crosby, Bing." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 26 Sep. 2016.
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–2004. Record Research. p. 139.
  13. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 134. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  14. ^ Bing Crosby: Crooner of the Century – By Richard Grudens
  15. ^ Billboard 15 Dec 1945 – "Bing Crosby – White Christmas / Let's Start The New Year Right" 10" single, (Decca – 18429)
  16. ^ Complete UK Hit Singles – 1952–2006, Graham Betts, Collins, 2006 – Music – 1088 pages – ("White Christmas" 1998 UK CD single)
  17. ^ "RIAA News Room – The American Recording Industry Announces its Artists of the Century – Nov 10, 1999". Recording Industry Association of America website. RIAA. 1999-11-10. Archived from the original on 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2010-02-08. ((cite web)): Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  18. ^ Guinness Book of Records. 2009. ISBN 1-904994-37-7. States that "Candle in the Wind 1997" is the "best-selling single since charts began"; however, not of all time. Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" is still recognized as the best-selling single of all time, but since it was released before the start of many charts, its pre-1950s sales are estimated. John's 1997 song has sold the most copies when looking at copies sold since charts began, as verified in Guinness World Records. See also: Guinness Book of Records, 2009 Edition, pages 14, 15 & 169 [1]
  19. ^ "New song list puts 'Rainbow' way up high". CNN. March 7, 2001.
  20. ^ Todd, Olivier (1990), Cruel April: The Fall of Saigon, W.W. Norton & Company, p. 353. For more information, see Fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War.
  21. ^ White Christmas piano solo, Hal Leonard
  22. ^ "Bing Crosby "White Christmas"". IFPI Denmark. January 3, 2018. Retrieved January 9, 2018.
  23. ^ "Guld- och Platinacertifikat − År 1987−1998" (PDF) (in Swedish). IFPI Sweden. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-05-17. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  24. ^ "ASCAP Announces Top 25 Holiday Songs of the Decade". ASCAP. November 23, 2009. Retrieved December 9, 2011.
  25. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920–2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 42. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  26. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920–2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 59. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  27. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920–2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 47. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  28. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920–2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 58. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  29. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920–2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 41. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  30. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920-2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 29. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  31. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920-2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 55. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  32. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920–2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 62. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  33. ^ CD sleeve: Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits (1955 – Present), 1989 Rhino Records Inc.
  34. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920–2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 22. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  35. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920–2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 23. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  36. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920–2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 48. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  37. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920–2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 49. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  38. ^ "White Christmas-bianco Natale" on acharts.com
  39. ^ "Italian Charts – Marco Mengoni – White Christmas (song)". Italiancharts.com. Hung Medien. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
Preceded by"(I've Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo"by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra with vocal refrain by Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton and the Modernaires The Billboard National Best Selling Retail Records number-one single(Bing Crosby version) October 31, 1942 – January 9, 1943 (11 weeks) Succeeded by"There Are Such Things" by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra with vocal refrain by Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers Preceded by"Mr. Five by Five"by Freddie Slack and His Orchestra with vocal by Ella Mae Morse The Billboard Harlem Hit Parade number-one single(Bing Crosby version) December 19, 1942 – January 2, 1943 (three weeks) Succeeded by"When the Lights Go on Again (All Over the World)"by Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra with vocal chorus by Trevor Bacon