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Sunday, December 3, 2017

A 'Merry Little Christmas' tale

This week marks the 73rd anniversary of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” introduced by Judy Garland in MGM’s 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis.  Garland simultaneously released a single on Dec. 3, 1944, which soared to the top of the charts, cherished at home and abroad during the dark days of World War II.   U.S. troops loved her and the song after she brought it to them on one of Bob Hope’s famous USO tours.

Written by Hugh Martin, the song was sung by Garland’s character Esther to her 5-year-old sister Tootie (played by Margaret O’Brien) as a way to help cheer her up on Christmas Eve as their family prepared to move from St. Louis to New York City.

Some of Martin’s original lyrics were rejected. They were: "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last/ Next year we may all be living in the past / Have yourself a merry little Christmas / Pop that champagne cork / Next year we may all be living in New York." Garland and director Vincente Minnelli criticized the song as depressing, and asked Martin to change the lyrics.  Though he initially resisted, Martin did made several upbeat changes.  The lines "It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past" became "Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.”  And the New York reference was eliminated.

In 1957, Frank Sinatra wanted to re-record it and asked Martin if he could “jolly the song up” even more.  Martin took out a line "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow” and came out with the wonderful line, "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough."   It became the key to cementing the song as one of our most beloved Christmas classics.   One of my favorite versions is sung by the wonderful Karen Carpenter, which you can find at this link.  Enjoy!

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