Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is a song written in 1943[2][3][4] by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis. Frank Sinatra later recorded a version with modified lyrics. In 2007, ASCAP ranked it the third most performed Christmas song during the preceding five years that had been written by ASCAP members.[5] In 2004 it finished at No. 76 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs rankings of the top tunes in American cinema.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
Song by Judy Garland[1] in the 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis
Published1944 (1944) by Leo Feist, Inc.
Composer(s)Hugh Martin
Lyricist(s)Ralph Blane

Meet Me in St. Louis

The song was written in 1943[2][3][4] for the upcoming film Meet me in St. Louis, for which MGM had hired Martin and Blane to write several songs.[4] Martin was vacationing in a house in the neighborhood of Southside in Birmingham, Alabama that his father Hugh Martin[6] had designed for his mother as a honeymoon cottage, located just down the street from his birthplace, and which later became the home of Martin and his family in 1923.[7] The song first appeared in a scene in which a family is distraught by the father's plans to move to New York City for a job promotion, leaving behind their beloved home in St. Louis, Missouri, just before the long-anticipated 1904 World's Fair begins. In a scene set on Christmas Eve, Judy Garland's character, Esther, sings the song to cheer up her despondent five-year-old sister, Tootie, played by Margaret O'Brien.[8]

Lyrics and revisions

Some of the original lyrics that were penned by Martin were rejected before filming began.[9][10] When presented with the original draft lyric, Garland, her co-star Tom Drake and director Vincente Minnelli criticized the song as depressing, and asked Martin to change the lyrics. Though he initially resisted, Martin made several changes to make the song more upbeat. For example, 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". Garland's version of the song, which was also released as a single by Decca Records, became popular among United States troops serving in World War II; her performance at the Hollywood Canteen brought many soldiers to tears.[11]

In 1957, Frank Sinatra asked Martin to revise the line "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow." He told Martin, "The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?"[10] Martin's new line was "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough." Martin made several other alterations, changing from the future tense to the present, so that the song's focus is a celebration of present happiness, rather than anticipation of a better future. (However, Sinatra had recorded the original song's lyrics in 1948.) On The Judy Garland Show Christmas Special, Garland sang the song to her children Joey and Lorna Luft with Sinatra's alternate lyrics.[12]

In 2001, Martin, occasionally active as a pianist with religious ministries since the 1980s, wrote an entirely new set of lyrics to the song with John Fricke, "Have Yourself a Blessed Little Christmas," a religious version of the secular Christmas standard. The song was recorded by gospel female vocalist Del Delker with Martin accompanying her on piano.[13]

In 2002, NewSong lead singer Michael O'Brien noted the line "through the years, we all will be together if the Lord allows," which was part of the original song, was purged and replaced with "if the fates allow" to remove religious reference when the song was released. He noted while a pastor in a California church in 1990 that he had met Martin, who played piano at the church where O'Brien was serving for an evening, and the pastor was told, "That's the original way I wrote it, so I want you to sing it this way."[14]

Collaboration controversy

Although Ralph Blane is credited with writing the music for many of Martin's songs, Martin claimed in his autobiography that he wrote both music and lyrics to all of the songs in Meet Me in St. Louis and that "all of the so-called Martin and Blane songs, (except for Best Foot Forward), were written entirely by me (solo) without help from Ralph or anybody else."[15] His explanation for allowing Blane equal credit for the songs was: "I was reasonably content to let him receive equal screen credit, sheet music credit, ASCAP royalties, etc., mainly because this bizarre situation was caused by my naive and atrocious lack of business acumen."[15]


Judy Garland's 1944 version of the song reached No. 27 on the Billboard charts.[16]

The lyrics Garland sang in Meet Me in St. Louis have been recorded with only slight variations by a number of artists, including Sinatra (in 1950 and 1963 single recordings), Bing Crosby (in I Wish You a Merry Christmas), Doris Day (in The Doris Day Christmas Album), Ella Fitzgerald (in Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas), The Pretenders (in the first A Very Special Christmas compilation), James Taylor (in October Road), and Luther Vandross (in This Is Christmas).[10]

In 1963, Sinatra's third recording of the song, recorded for a seasonal compilation album of the same name by various Reprise artists and backed by popular Hollywood arranger Gus Levene and his orchestra,[17] was controversially used by director Carl Foreman in his anti-war film The Victors as the soundtrack backdrop (along with the carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing") to the execution by firing squad of a G.I. deserter in a bleak, snowy field on Christmas Eve a scene inspired by the real-life execution of Pvt. Eddie Slovik in 1945. The New York Times film reviewer, while recognising the power of the scene, complained that "the device itself is almost as specious and sentimental as what [Foreman] is trying to mock".[18]

In 2011, Michael Bublé's version reached number 98 on the top 100 charts.[19]

See also


  1. Studwell, William Emmett (1995). "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". The Christmas carol reader. Routledge. p. 136. ISBN 1-56023-872-0.
  2. Gilbert, Sophie. "'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas': An Ode to Seasonal Melancholy". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on December 4, 2019. Retrieved December 4, 2019. ...the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was written in 1943 by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane before filming began, during World War II.
  3. "Meet Me In St Louis, Production Notes". Thejudyroom.com. The Judy Room. Archived from the original on December 4, 2019. Retrieved December 4, 2019. 12/04/1943: Judy pre-records "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".
  4. Martin, Hugh (2010). The Boy Next Door. Trolley Press. ISBN 978-0-615-36507-7.
  5. "ASCAP Announces Top 25 Holiday Songs" (Press release). ASCAP. November 12, 2007. Retrieved December 21, 2007.
  6. "Hugh Martin".
  7. Martin, Hugh (2010). The Boy Next Door. Trolley Press. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-0-615-36507-7.
  8. Dirks, Tim (1996). "Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)". The Greatest Films. Retrieved December 21, 2007.
  9. Martin, Hugh (2010). The Boy Next Door. Trolley Press. pp. 196–197. ISBN 978-0-615-36507-7.
  10. Willman, Chris (December 22, 2006). "There's Something About Merry". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 21, 2007.
  11. Collins, Ace (2001). Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. pp. 78–79. ISBN 0-310-23926-5.
  12. "The Christmas Special". The Judy Garland Show. Season 1. Episode 15. Los Angeles. December 22, 1963. 1:54 minutes in. CBS. CBS Television City.
  13. "The Carpenter and the King". The Voice of Prophesy. Archived from the original on November 30, 2010. Retrieved December 11, 2016.
  14. CBS.COM – The Christmas Shoes Archived August 8, 2007, at the Wayback Machine from CBS
  15. Martin, Hugh (2010). The Boy Next Door. Trolley Press. pp. 390–392. ISBN 978-0-615-36507-7.
  16. Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 170. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
  17. Leigh, Spencer (September 25, 2015). Frank Sinatra: An Extraordinary Life. McNidder and Grace Limited. p. 335. ISBN 978-0-85716-088-1.
  18. The Grim Message of War: Foreman's 'The Victors' at Two Theaters, by Bosley Crowther, New York Times, December 20, 1963
  19. Ryan, Gavin (December 20, 2014). "ARIA Singles: Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars Stay At No 1". Noise11. Noise Network. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
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