The ox and the lamb kept time

You might say she’s one of this town’s more long-standing residents.  Born in Missouri in 1892, Katherine Kennicott Davis came east to study music at Wellesley College, where she remained as a teaching assistant while studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. After further studies abroad she returned to Massachusetts, to teach music at Concord Academy.

From the age of 15 Davis was also a celebrated composer, writing more than 600 pieces in her lifetime, many of them specifically for school choirs.  Although much of her work was highly acclaimed, the one piece that she’ll be best remembered for is this song written in 1941, originally entitled, “Carol of the Drum.” Apparently inspired by a Czech carol, she is said to have written it while trying to take a nap.

The song appealed to the von Trapp Family singers, who were the first to record it in 1955, shortly before they retired.  Then, a conductor and arranger named Harry Simeone who had worked on a number of Bing Crosby movies, re-arranged the piece with his friend Henry Onorati. He also gave it a new name.

Recorded in 1957 as a track on the (recently formed) Harry Simeone Chorale’s very first album, “Sing We Now of Christmas” (on which Simeone and Onorati received joint credit with Davis, though they had only served as arrangers) it was re-released as a single every Christmas from 1958 to 1962.  By which time “The Little Drummer Boy” had became a holiday classic.

With an august body of work that included choruses, cantatas, operas, piano pieces and popular songs, Katherine K. Davis continued to write music well into her 80s.  Upon her death in 1980 she was interred here in Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and the considerable proceeds from her many musical compositions were left to Wellesley College’s Music Program.

Of “The Little Drummer Boy” she once quipped how it had been “done to death on radio and TV.”  Yet  musicians everywhere still continue to perform it, with over 225 cover versions recorded in seven languages…and a broad range of music genres.

A small sampling includes: Bing Crosby (solo and then with David Bowie), Johnny Cash, Jonnie Mathis, Marlene Dietrich, Rosemary Clooney, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, the Brady Bunch, Emmylou Harris, Joan Jett, Bob Seger, Neil Young, Grace Jones, Destiny’s Child, Celtic Woman, The Black Eyed Peas, The cast of Glee…

…and this version by Oregon based, 13-member Pink Martini, which (appropriately) draws inspiration from numerous genres all over the world.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Thursday 20 December 

Little Drummer Boy

 Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum

A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum

To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum

Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

 So to honor Him

Pa rum pum pum pum

When we come

 Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum

I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum

I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum

That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum

Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum

 Shall I play for you

Pa rum pum pum pum

On my drum

 Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum

The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum

I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum

I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum

rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum

 Then He smiled at me

Pa rum pum pum pum

Me and my drum


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