Mary's Boy Child

"Mary's Boy Child" is a 1956 Christmas song, written by Jester Hairston.[4] It is widely performed as a Christmas carol.

"Mary's Boy Child"
Single by Harry Belafonte
from the album An Evening with Belafonte
FormatVinyl record (7", 10")
RecordedJuly 1956[1]
StudioGrand Ballroom, Webster Hall, New York City
Length4:20 (album version)[2]
2:53 (single version)[3]
LabelRCA Victor
Songwriter(s)Jester Hairston
Harry Belafonte singles chronology
"Jamaica Farewell"
"Mary's Boy Child"
"Banana Boat (Day-O)"


The song had its genesis when Hairston was sharing a room with a friend. The friend asked him to write a song for a birthday party.[5] Hairston wrote the song with a calypso rhythm because the people at the party would be mainly West Indians. The song's original title was "He Pone and Chocolate Tea", pone being a type of corn bread.[5] It was never recorded in this form.

Some time later Walter Schumann, at the time conducting Schumann's Hollywood Choir, asked Hairston to write a new Christmas song for his choir. Hairston remembered the calypso rhythm from his old song and wrote new lyrics for it.[5]

Harry Belafonte heard the song being performed by the choir and sought permission to record it.[5] It was recorded in 1956 for his album An Evening with Belafonte[2]. A different, shorter take was used for a corresponding single.[3] However, the longer version was also released in the UK as a single[6] (with a B-side of Eden Was Just Like This[7]), where it became the first UK number one to have a playing time of over four minutes.[8] It reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart in November 1957,[4][6][8] and has since sold over 1.19 million copies there.[9]

In 1962, the full-length version was also added to a re-issue of Belafonte's previously released album To Wish You a Merry Christmas.


One of the best-known cover versions of the song is from the German-based disco-group Boney M. from 1978, "Mary's Boy Child – Oh My Lord."[10] This version returned the song to the top of the UK chart.[4] It is one of the best-selling singles of all time in the UK, and has sold 1.87 million copies as of November 2015.[9]

When Hairston found out how well the Boney M version had done, he said: "God bless my soul. That's tremendous for an old fogey like me".[5] He was 78 at the time.

The song has been recorded twice by Andy Williams; once on his 1965 album Merry Christmas and again on his 1997 album We Need A Little Christmas. It has also been recorded by The Four Lads in 1956[11] and Mahalia Jackson in the late 1950s[12], both under the title Mary's Little Boy Chile. Other recordings include The Gospel Clefs in (1973), Evie (1977), Anne Murray, The Brothers Four, Charlotte Church (Dream a Dream, 2000), Greg MacDonald, The Lettermen (1966), The Merrymen, Jim Reeves (1963), Rolf Harris (1970), Roger Whittaker, The Little River Band, The Three Degrees, The Pete King Chorale, Nina & Frederik, Carola, Vikingarna, Kiri Te Kanawa (1984), José Mari Chan (1990), Al Bano and Romina Power (1991), Tom Jones (1993), Jose Feliciano, John Denver (1990), the cast of Glee (2013), RJ Jacinto (2015), Harry Connick Jr, Bryn Terfel, Connie Talbot and many others. The Bee Gees recorded the song as part of a medley with "Silent Night" for their 1968 album Horizontal, although it was only officially released as a bonus track in 2006. The track is erroneously titled "Silent Night/Hark the Herald Angels Sing."[13]

The song was also included on the 1991 live concert A Carnegie Hall Christmas Concert, featuring Kathleen Battle, Frederica von Stade and Wynton Marsalis.

Additional covers include The Wiggles on their 2004 album Santa's Rockin'; Juice Newton's folk-rock version on her 2007 The Gift of Christmas; Mandisa on her 2008 album It's Christmas; Paul Poulton's reggae version on his 2008 album Grooves 4 Scrooge; Daniel O'Donnell on his 2010 album O Holy Night; and Joe McElderry on his 2011 album Classic Christmas.

In 2012, the Portuguese priest António Cartageno made a choral arrangement for the song.


Translated versions include "Hankien Joulu" recorded by Georg Malmstén, "Kauan Sitten Beetlehem" recorded by Petri Laaksonen (fi), "Marian Poika" by Tarja Turunen, "Varje människa har ett ljus" recorded by Jan Malmsjö,[14] "...und Frieden für die Welt" by Rolf Zuckowski, "Maria's Kind" by La Esterella, "Bethlehem" by Rob de Nijs, "Det hände sig för länge sen" recorded by Kikki Danielsson on her 1987 Christmas album Min barndoms jular,[15] "Det hände sig för länge sen" recorded by Stefan Borsch on his 1981 Christmas album I kväll jag tänder ett ljus,[16] "Himlens hemlighet" recorded by Tommy Körberg and "Du är som en sommardag" by dance band Schytts. The Schytts version was in the Swedish chart Svensktoppen for 10 weeks in 1979, where it peaked at No. 1.[17] "Ang Batang Hesus" by mayor_junneil (Filipino). The Sinhala translation is "Kalakata Pera e Bethleheme" Sinhala: "කලකට පෙර ඒ බෙත්ලෙහෙමේ".

Other uses

The words and music featured on a miniature sheet issued with the 1983 Christmas stamps of the Caribbean island of St Kitts,[18] while the adjacent island of Nevis issued a complementary sheet featuring the "Calypso Carol".


  2. "Belafonte Tracks - A Discography of Original Recordings - Albums 1949 - 1959". Archived from the original on 9 December 2019. Retrieved 9 December 2019. Mary's Boy Child (4:20). RCA-LPM-1402 'An Evening With Belafonte', Matrix Nos: G2PP-9882 / 9883, [released in:] 1956 [as a] 33 rpm LP. (Note about 'LPM' (33 rpm Long-Play Monaural Record): RCA assigned this prefix to their early LPs which were all monaural (or single channel) recordings... up until 1962)
  3. "Belafonte Tracks - A Discography of Original Recordings - Single-Play Recordings RCA Victor (1952-67)". Archived from the original on 7 August 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2019. Mary's Boy Child, 2:53, released in 1956, RCA Catogue number: 47-6735, RCA Matrix Number: G2PW-4902. (Note: [An] alternate take of Mary's Boy Child [was] chosen for release on single because of the shorter duration. The corresponding LP track was concert length.)
  4. Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 33. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.
  5. Boney M, John Shearlaw and David Brown, Hamlin Paperbacks, 1979 ISBN 0 600 20009 4, page 105
  6. "Official Singles Chart, "Mary's Boy Child"". The Official UK Charts Company. Archived from the original on 9 December 2019. Retrieved 9 December 2019. Title: Mary's Boy Child. Artist: Harry Belafonte. Label: RCA. RCA Record Catalogue Number: 1022. First charted: 07.11.1957. Chart run [at number one]: Weeks ending 1957/11/28 through 1958/01/09
  7. "Harry Belafonte – Mary's Boy Child / Eden Was Just Like This". Discogs®. 2019. Archived from the original on 10 December 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  8. "Mary's Boy Child". Songfacts®, LLC. Archived from the original on 10 December 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2019. ...[it was] the first ever British #1 record to have a playing time of more than four minutes (4:12). This stayed at #1 in the UK for seven weeks before becoming the only song to drop from #1 straight out of Top 10 the following week (after Christmas, when it tumbled from #1 to #12). The song returned to the charts the next two years at Christmas, going to #10 in 1958 and #30 in 1959.
  9. Myers, Justin (29 November 2015). "Official Top 20 biggest selling Christmas songs revealed". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 29 November 2015. Mary's Boy Child has hit Christmas Number 1 twice by separate artists: Boney M's disco-lite version from 1978... with 1.89 million sales. Harry Belafonte's version is at 14, from 1957, on 1.19 million.
  10. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 360. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  11. "The Four Lads – Mary's Little Boy Chile / The Stingiest Man In Town". Discogs®. Archived from the original on 10 December 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  12. "Mahalia Jackson – Mahalia Jackson". Discogs®. Archived from the original on 10 December 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  13. Hughes, Andrew Môn (2009). The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb. Omnibus Press. ISBN 9780857120045.
  14. Information på Svensk mediedatabas
  15. Information at Svensk mediedatabas
  16. Information at Svensk mediedatabas
  17. Svensktoppen - 1979
  18. "St Kitts 1983 Christmas m/sheet (SG MS 138)".
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