File:Modern day "Little Drummer Boy" reenactment actor.jpg

"The Little Drummer Boy" (originally known as "Carol of the Drum") is a popular Christmas song written by the American classical music composer and teacher Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941.[1] It was recorded in 1951 by the Trapp Family Singers and realised on the choir's first LP Christmas with the Trapp Family Singers and released as a single (45rpm). These were the first recordings released on their new record label Decca Records and further popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale. This version was re-released successfully for several years and the song has been recorded many times since.[2]

In the lyrics the singer relates how, as a poor young boy, he was summoned by the Magi to the nativity where, without a gift for the infant Jesus, he played his drum with the Virgin Mary's approval, remembering "I played my best for Him" and "He smiled at me."


The song was originally titled "Carol of the Drum" and was published by Davis as based upon a traditional Czech carol.[3] Davis's interest was in producing material for amateur and girls' choirs: Her manuscript is set as a chorale, in which the tune is in the soprano melody with alto harmony, tenor and bass parts producing the "drum rhythm" and a keyboard accompaniment "for rehearsal only". It is headed "Czech Carol freely transcribed by K.K.D", these initials then deleted and replaced with "C.R.W. Robinson", a name under which Davis sometimes published.[4][5] The Czech original of the carol has never been identified.

"Carol of the Drum" appealed to the Austrian Trapp Family Singers, who first brought the song to wider prominence when they recorded it for Decca Records in 1955, shortly before they retired: their version was credited solely to Davis and published by Belwin-Mills.[6] In 1957 it was recorded, with a slightly altered arrangement, by the Jack Halloran Singers for their album Christmas Is A-Comin' on Dot Records. Dot's Henry Onorati introduced the song to his friend Harry Simeone and the following year, when 20th Century Fox Records contracted him to make a Christmas album, Simeone, making further small changes to the Halloran arrangement[7] and retitling it "The Little Drummer Boy", recorded it with the Harry Simeone Chorale on the album Sing We Now of Christmas. Simeone and Onorati claimed joint composition credits with Davis.[2]

The album and the song were an enormous success, the single scoring on the U.S. music charts from 1958 to 1962. In 1963, the album was reissued under the title The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival, capitalizing on the single's popularity. The following year the album was released in stereo. In 1988, The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival was released on CD by Casablanca Records,[2] and subsequently, on Island Records.[8] Harry Simeone, who in 1964 had signed with Kapp Records, recorded a new version of "The Little Drummer Boy" in 1965 for his album O' Bambino: The Little Drummer Boy.[2] Simeone recorded the song a third and final time in 1981, for an album (again titled The Little Drummer Boy) on the budget Holiday Records label.

The story depicted in the song is somewhat similar to a 12th-century legend retold by Anatole France as Le Jongleur de Notre Dame (Template:Lang-fr), which was adapted into an opera in 1902 by Jules Massenet. In the French legend, however, a juggler juggles before the statue of the Virgin Mary, and the statue, according to which version of the legend one reads, either smiles at him or throws him a rose (or both, as in the 1984 television film, The Juggler of Notre Dame.)

Other versionsEdit

The popularity of the "The Little Drummer Boy" can be seen by the number of cover versions, a total of over 220 versions in seven languages are known, in all kinds of music genres:


  • The Trapp Family Singers, whose life story provided some inspiration for Rodgers and Hammerstein in their musical The Sound of Music, recorded a song titled "Carol of the Drum" (identified on the Decca record jacket as a "Czech carol") prior to their 1955 retirement. This song strongly resembles "The Little Drummer Boy" in music and lyrics, except for replacing the lamb with an ass in the line "The ox and lamb kept time."
  • 1957: The Jack Halloran Singers included "Carol of the Drum" on their Christmas album, Christmas Is A-Comin'. The album was reissued two years later as The Little Drummer Boy to capitalize on the success of the 1958 version by the Harry Simeone Chorale.
  • 1958: The popular Harry Simeone Chorale recording rose to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, despite its late issue date in November. Simeone would re-record the song in 1965, and again in 1981.
  • 1959: The Beverley Sisters' version reached No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart.


  • The Jack Halloran Singers' 1957 version of the song was released as a single with the title "The Little Drummer Boy," and it peaked at No. 96 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in early January 1962.
  • Joan Baez recorded a version of the song for her Christmas album, Noël, which peaked at No. 16 on Billboard magazine's special Christmas Singles chart in December of '66.
  • Henry Mancini recorded a version of the song for his Christmas album, A Merry Mancini Christmas.
  • The Crusaders released their version of the song as a single. It was also included on their November 1966 debut album, which is regarded as one of the first Christian rock albums.
  • Lou Rawls released a version of the song on his Christmas album, Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho! This version was also released as a Capitol Records single that peaked at No. 2 on Billboard magazine's special Christmas Singles chart in December of '67, and then at No. 5 on the same chart in December 1969.
  • Kenny Burrell released an instrumental version of the song that peaked at No. 21 on Billboard magazine's special Christmas Singles chart in late December of '67.
  • Stevie Wonder released a version of the song on his Christmas album, Someday at Christmas.
  • Jimi Hendrix recorded a cover of the song, his last recording before his death the following year, which was later included on his 1999 holiday EP, Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.


  • The studio instrumental disco group Moonlion released an instrumental version of the song that peaked at No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in early January 1976.


  • An Italian version was recorded by I Cavalieri del Re, an Italian band that specialized in cartoon songs.
  • The Canadian Brass released an instrumental version of the song or their Christmas album, A Canadian Brass Christmas.
  • Soprano Kiri te Kanawa recorded the song for her 1982 Christmas album Christmas With Kiri.
  • Ray Charles released a version on his Christmas album The Spirit of Christmas.
  • Mannheim Steamroller included a version of the song on their second Christmas album, A Fresh Aire Christmas.
  • Alexander O'Neal included a version of the song on his first Christmas album, My Gift to You
  • The Christian rock band White Heart released a version of the song on Christmas, a 1988 Christmas album by artists who recorded for Sparrow Records.
  • Grace Jones performed an excerpt from the song on the children's television program, Pee-Wee's Playhouse.
  • A Colombian choir group named "Los Niños Cantores de Navidad" (The Singing Children of Christmas) recorded the song in a LP named "16 Villancicos Tradicionales" (16 Traditionals Christmas Carols) for the label Discos Fuentes. This version is the most traditional in Latinoamerican Christmas folklore.


  • Take 6 released a version of the song on their Christmas album, He Is Christmas.
  • The British band The Yobs released a parody version of the song titled "Rub-a-Dum-Dum."
  • Jazz guitarist Tuck Andress recorded an instrumental version of the song for his album, Hymns, Carols and Songs about Snow.
  • Al Bano & Romina Power released an Italian version of the song titled "Il Piccolo Tamburino."
  • Apocalyptica covered the song and released it as a single.
  • Alicia Keys released a modified version of the song titled "Little Drummer Girl" on the Christmas album, Jermaine Dupri Presents Twelve Soulful Nights Of Christmas.
  • German punk band Die Toten Hosen released a version of the song on their album, Wir warten auf's Christkind under their pseudonym Die Roten Rosen (other Christmas songs were included on this album).
  • Chicago released a version of the song on their first Christmas album, Chicago XXV.
  • Minnesota band Low published their EP Christmas, a collection of assorted Christmas songs including a version of "The Little Drummer Boy."
  • The West Wing's first Christmas episode, "In Excelsis Deo," featured a boys choir singing the song over a funeral service. The episode went on to win multiple Emmy Awards.
  • Swedish artist Carola Häggkvist recorded the song in a duet with Blues for her Christmas album, Jul i Betlehem.
  • Ringo Starr released a version of the song on his twelfth studio album, I Wanna Be Santa Claus
  • The Three Tenors performed this song for their 1999 Christmas concert which was released on CD and DVD as The Three Tenors Christmas.


  • Vanessa Williams released a cover of the song on her second Christmas album, Silver & Gold.
  • Jessica Simpson released a version of the song featuring her sister Ashlee Simpson on her Christmas album, ReJoyce: The Christmas Album.
  • Art Paul Schlosser released a version of the song titled "Kazoo Boy" on his album, The ABCs of Art Paul Schlosser World. Schlosser's version uses a kazoo instead of a drum on the "rum pum pum pum" parts.
  • The McDades released a version of the song with Terry McDade on their album "Noel" featuring an intro with an Indian Ghazal improvisation
  • Decomposure covered the song, which was released on the Unschooled Records Christmas compilation album, A Very Unschooled Christmas. It was also re-released on Decomposure's own compilation album, Songs from Old Headphones.
  • Boyz II Men released their rendition of the song on their second Christmas album, Winter/Reflections.[14]
  • Bryan Duncan and the NehoSoul Band recorded the song on their Christmas album, A NehoSoul Christmas.
  • Dwight Schrute briefly performed the song in the pilot episode of The Office. In 2006, Angela performs the song as karaoke in Episode 39.
  • MercyMe recorded the song for their Christmas album, "The Christmas Sessions".
  • Josh Groban released a version of the song (featuring guitarist Andy McKee and Gigi Hadid on background vocal) on his holiday album, "Noël".
  • Jan Rot performed a Dutch version of the song on An + Jan's Christmas album, Vrolijk Kerstfeest.


  • Richard Marx recorded the song and filmed a promotional music video for his holiday album, Christmas Spirit. The song returned him to the Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart's Top 10 for the first time since 1997(fifteen years).
  • Christopher Lee released the single "A Heavy Metal Christmas," which included a cover of the song.
  • Phish performed covers and teases of the song during their New Years Run at Madison Square Garden.
  • Neal Morse and the "Prog World Orchestra" recorded the song featuring Mike Portnoy on drums for the album "A Proggy Christmas"
  • Lincoln Brewster released his version on "Joy To The World," with a rendition with Christian rapper, KJ-52.
  • Earth, Wind & Fire released their version on the album Holiday on October 21, 2014.
  • Jetty Rae released her version of the song for her holiday album More Than December on November 26, 2014.

Covers in other languagesEdit

  • In Spanish speaking countries it is a common carol recorded under the name "El niño del tambor" (The boy of the drum) or "El tamborilero". One of the better known cover versions of the song is sung by Spanish singer Raphael.
  • In French speaking countries since Nana Mouskouri 1965 version it is a common song recorded under the name "L'enfant au tambour" (The boy with a drum).
  • A Punjabi version was recorded under the name "Drummer Boy - Kich Ke" in 2014 by Canadian YouTube sensation Jus Reign for his "Geeta Brothers Presents - Punjabi Christmas Album".
  • The Finnish band Raskasta Joulua recorded a version with Finnish lyrics, entitled "Pieni Rumpali" (meaning "Little Drummer"), for their 2013 album. In 2015, Sonata Arctica frontman Tony Kakko, who sang on the Raskasta Joulua version, and Apocalyptica cellist Eicca Toppinen collaborated to record another version.


External linksEdit



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