Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Some of the best popular music ever produced in the United States came out of the dark and challenging years of World War II when overseas troops and families alike were in serious need of being cheered up by light entertainment, especially during the holidays. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” falls into just this category, although its creation differs greatly from most other Christmas songs that reached similar heights of lasting popularity.

The Composer

Hugh Martin, who was born on August 11, 1914 enjoyed a long career as a songwriter, composer, and performer that included numerous extremely successful Broadway musicals and movie scores. He also arranged music and vocals for a number of winning Broadway shows, and together with his friend Ralph Blane taped a record featuring their favorite music they had co-written. In the 1950's he wrote the musical score for various Hollywood productions starring such big names as Debbie Reynolds, Lucille Ball, and Jane Powell. His creative talent was recognized with several Oscar and Tony nominations, but he was always left empty handed.

It is widely assumed today that during one of his stays at his family's summer retreat in Alabama in the 1940's, Martin both wrote the lyrics and composed the music to “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. Despite the fact that the original lyrics had a distinct melancholic overtone that was ill suited to celebrate the joy of Christmas, the piece was included in a 1944 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie entitled, “Meet Me In St. Louis”. Two other songs written by Martin also made it into the movie and would become huge hits immortalized by the fabulous vocals of Judy Garland.

From Judy Garland to Frank Sinatra And Beyond

Judy Garland, who by the time she starred as Esther in “Meet Me in St. Louis” could already look back on one of the most successful acting and singing careers in America, helped Martin's “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” to become an instant smash hit. The song was particularly popular with soldiers stationed overseas as WWII entered its decisive phase in Europe. Her brilliant performance in the movie combined with her inimitable voice lent the song an extraordinary quality that was at once cheerful and sad, wistfully echoing the longing of soldiers and their families for the “happy golden days of yore”. Indeed, the song was met with so much enthusiasm by the public that Decca Records issued it as a single soon after the movie made its debut across the country.

Thirteen years after the initial success that Garland had celebrated with her rendition of the song, it was another super star who brought it back into the limelight. Frank Sinatra, whose career was relaunched in the 1950's when Capitol Records took him under contract, wanted to include the piece in an album of Christmas songs, but he too was slightly put off by the somber character of the lyrics. He requested that some of the lyrics be rewritten, which Hugh Martin more than willingly obliged to. The result was an overall more joyful tone, making the song even more successful. The new version was included in Sinatra's album “A Jolly Christmas”, and the lyrics have since become the widely used standard.

“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” has enjoyed tremendous popularity to this day, thanks to the many famous artists who have included it in their repertoire, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, and Connie Francis, to name just a few.


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