Sunday 20 December 2015

James Pierpont's "Jingle Bells"

Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
Over the fields we go
Laughing all the way
Bells on bobtails ring
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to laugh and sing
A sleighing song tonight!

In 1850, James Pierpont sat down at the Simpson Tavern in Medford, Massachusetts and wrote the lyrics to One Horse Open Sleigh.  Mrs. Otis Waterman, who was present at the time, called it a "merry little jingle"; hence, the tune became known as "Jingle Bells".  The Christmas song was not published until 1857, after James Pierpont moved to Savannah, Georgia, to fill the position of organist at the Unitarian Church.  The charge, of which his brother was the pastor, was known for its abolitionist leanings.  Even after the church closed due to its stand against slavery, Pierpont remained in Savannah as he married the mayor's daughter, Eliza Jane Purse.

Jingle Bells talks about going for a ride on a sleigh, reminiscent of the 19th Century sleigh races in Salem, Massachusetts.  At one point, the sleigh gets "upsot" which is the past tense for upset or turned over.  The word "Jingle" is used as a verb rather than an adjective, as the bells were used by a driver to alert other sleighs of his approach.  

The Edison Male Quartette was the first to record the song, on an Edison cylinder, in 1898 as part of a Christmas medley called the Sleigh Ride Party.  In 1943, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters recorded Jingle Bells which placed 19th on the charts.  The Christmas song had the distinction of being the first song broadcast from outer space in 1965.  Astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra smuggled a harmonica and sleigh bells on board their space craft, Gemini VI, to provide the music.(

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