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Saturday, December 16, 2017

The dark secrets behind ‘White Christmas’







White Christmas


Nothing says Christmas better than Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas,” which was first released 75 years ago in 1942. In the time since, it’s been recorded more than 500 times in many different languages.


But it may never have embedded itself so firmly into pop-culture history if not for World War II. With thousands of Americans stationed abroad, the song was a hit with homesick GIs dreaming of where “the treetops glisten” and the sound of “sleigh bells in the snow.” These vivid images were conjured by New York songwriter Irving Berlin — who was actually Jewish.


“Berlin had been drafted in World War I, so he knew what it was like to be away from home,” says Rachel Lithgow, executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, where the original sheet music is available to view. “He was writing it for himself and his brethren.”


Despite its warm, evocative imagery, the song and its composer have a dark and unusual sad back story. Here are three things you might not know about “White Christmas.”


Christmas marked a Berlin tragedy


Aside from being Jewish, there was another reason Berlin wasn’t big on Christmas: On Dec. 25, 1928, he woke to find his 3-week-old son, Irving Berlin Jr., dead in his bassinet. Every Christmas after, Berlin and his wife, Ellin, would lay a wreath on their child’s grave in the Bronx.


Berlin hated Elvis Presley’s version


The King recorded “White Christmas” in 1957 for “Elvis’ Christmas Album,” but Berlin disliked him, and rock ’n’ roll in general. He even launched a campaign to have radio stations ban Elvis’ version of his song. It failed — and “Elvis’ Christmas Album” went to No. 1 on the Billboard charts.


It helped end the Vietnam War


“White Christmas” played an unusual role in the Vietnam conflict. As the North Vietnamese army rolled into Saigon in April 1975, the pre-approved signal for all Americans to evacuate was the sound of “White Christmas” being played on Armed Forces Radio.









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