Tuesday 1 December 2015

James Gillespie's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

"If you don't wash behind your ears, Haven, Santa won't come to see you." 
(James "Haven" Gillespie's Mother)

In September of 1934, James "Haven" Gillespie was a New York City vaudevillian turned songwriter who had fallen on hard times financially.  To add to his misery, his brother passed away.  Right after the funeral, he got a call from Edgar Bittner of Leo Feist publishing asking him to write a Christmas song.  Feeling too overcome with grief, Gillespie initially rejected the idea.

However, one subway ride changed everything.  Gillespie started to recollect Christmases spent in Kentucky with his brother, along with seven other siblings, in which his mother would warn them that Santa Claus was watching.  "If you don't wash behind your ears, Haven, Santa won't come to see you," reminded his mother.

Within fifteen minutes, Gillespie had penned the lyrics to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town".  He called in composer John Coots to write the music.  On Thanksgiving of 1934, the song was featured on the Eddie Cantor Radio Show.  The song was an instant hit.  An average of 25,000 orders per day were taken for the sheet music.  In the decades since its debut, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" has been recorded by everyone from Alvin and the Chipmunks to Jackie Gleason to Bruce Springsteen to Justin Bieber.  And to think that James Gillespie almost passed up the opportunity to write it.

Note:  To listen to the song, visit http://mentalfloss.com/article/60596/origins-10-popular-christmas-carols.

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