1951 was a busy year for Iowa’s favorite Music Man – Meredith Willson. As music director for NBC Radio’s weekly blockbuster – The Big Show – Willson had introduced his newest song May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You on November 19, 1950, and over the next few months of 1951, this classic ballad became one the nation’s top sellers. Read more here.
Back in Iowa City, on February 12, 1951 – in the Iowa Field House – the SUI pep band introduced Meredith’s newest creation – The Iowa Fight Song – a tune he’d written for his favorite university, introducing it to his national radio audience on The Big Show on New Year’s Eve. Read more here.
In October 1951 (see pic above), Meredith introduced yet another new creation – Three Chimes Of Silver – written specifically to celebrate NBC Radio’s 25th anniversary. Read more here.
So, keeping with his successful year, on September 18, 1951, one of Meredith’s longest-lasting pop tunes was released by the highly-popular crooner – Perry Como. Backed with The Fontane Sisters and Mitchell Aryes & His Orchestra, RCA-Victor released the 45-RPM single (47-4314) and the 78-RPM single (20-4314) with its then abbreviated title – It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas.
Meredith later re-titled his hit tune – It’s Beginning To Look (A Lot) Like Christmas – but either way, Como’s single had made it a huge success, which only became bigger when Bing “White Christmas” Crosby released his classic version on October 1st, 1951.
Interestingly, there are two ideas on how Meredith Willson came up with the lyrics to his best-known Christmas song.
A popular belief in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, holds that Willson wrote the song while staying in Yarmouth’s Grand Hotel (pictured above). The song refers to a “tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well…” – the park being Frost Park, directly across the road from the Grand Hotel. The song also makes mention of the ‘five and ten’ – which was a popular type of store (similar to today’s Dollar Tree) operating in Yarmouth – like all communities at the time – just down the street from the Grand.
The second option for how Meredith arrived at his lyrics picks up on the same idea that formed Meredith’s biggest life achievement – his 1957 Broadway musical – The Music Man. You see, it’s very possible that the “Grand Hotel” Willson mentions in his song was inspired by the Historic Park Inn Hotel in his hometown of Mason City, Iowa. The Park Inn (pictured above) is the last remaining hotel in the world designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and is situated in downtown Mason City overlooking Central Park. And, of course, Mason City of 1951 had its own ‘five and ten’ store, like every other small town across America!
Hmm. So, who knows? Maybe Meredith was tipping his hat to both cities, but regardless of where his idea came from, the end result certainly was one warm-n-cozy Christmas-time classic.
Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas continued to grow in popularity as it was recorded by countless artists. In 1963, Meredith incorporated the popular song into his new Broadway musical Here’s Love – based on the popular 1947 Christmas-time film – Miracle on 34th Street. In typical Willson-musical-style, the song is sung in counterpoint to his newly-composed tune – Pine Cones and Holly Berries. Listen to this recording of the combo made by The Osmond Brothers…
Without a doubt, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas has become a Christmas classic, recorded literally hundreds of times by a variety of different artists over the years – ranging from Alvin and The Chipmunks in the 1960’s…
…to Johnny Mathis recording the song for his 1986 album Christmas Eve with Johnny Mathis, with this version gaining popularity after being included in the film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York…
…to Canadian crooner Michael Bublé’s version – which was first released on October 24, 2011, as the first track of Bublé’s Christmas album.
(M-0145) All in all, with its popular holiday theme, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas just might be Meredith Willson’s longest-enduring classic. Thanks, Meredith, for giving us this Yule-time heart-warmer!
Looking for more resources on Meredith Willson? Check out our suggestions here.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, Wikipedia
Maritime town may have inspired well-known Christmas carol, CTV Atlantic, December 24, 2013
Park Inn Hotel, Mason City, Iowa, Wikipedia
Producer Notes: The Making of Meredith Willson, Iowa-PBS
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