One songwriter, so many Christmas songs

Three examples:

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” by Johnny Marks, based on a poem by Robert L. May, as sung by Destiny’s Child (you heard me):

Video posted by DestinysChildVEVO

“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” by Johnny Marks, sung by Bill Haley:

Video posted by PEARLY

“A Holly Jolly Christmas,” by Johnny Marks, sung by Sufjan Stevens:

Video posted by Sufjan Stevens – topic (Provided to YouTube by BWSCD, Inc.)

There is a very interesting story behind the writing of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Robert May was an in-house copywriter for Montgomery Ward, and in 1939, as his wife was dying of cancer, they asked him to write a Christmas story that they could give away to shoppers to spur holiday sales. A little booklet titled “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was the result. Sometime in 1939, Johnny Marks became aware of the story and made a note in his idea notebook that it might make a good song. In 1947, Johnny Marks married May’s sister, and in 1949 he wrote the song based on his new brother-in-law’s poem. Gene Autry recorded the song as a B side in 1949 because his wife liked it (Autry didn’t), and it went on to sell 15 million copies.

Clearly Johnny Marks made something of a speciality of Christmas songs–Wikipedia lists 26 Christmas and Christmas-show songs by Marks, and he named his music publishing company St. Nicholas Music. Nevertheless, Marks was indeed Jewish.

In addition to producing a substantial catalogue of much-loved holiday (and some non-holiday!) songs, Marks had a distinguished military career, earning a Bronze Star and four Battle Stars as a captain in WWII. He also served on ASCAP’s Board of Directors from 1957 through 1961, and was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1981.


*For a much more detailed account of the Rudolph story, see “Shining a Light on the Largely Untold Story of the Origins of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Nate Bloom. It’s an amazing story, and well worth your time.