When composer Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas" in 1941, he condemned that the superstar of the day, the crooner Bing Crosby, was the first to record it. The version of Crosby, recorded for Decca on May 29, 1942, became the best-selling record of all time. But is it the best version of the song to want to be home for the holidays?
Facts of how and where Berlin wrote the song are murky, with accounts that he may have written at one of his houses in New York or Beverly Hills; an account has the song composed by the pool at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona.
Although written in 1940, the song made its first appearance in the 1942 film Holiday Inn . As troops left the house in the shadow of World War II, the story of the holiday song to be home for Christmas became more poignant … and ensured its success.
More than one hundred times of "White Christmas" were recorded, from country (Chet Atkins) to gospel (Mahalia Jackson) to rock (Elvis Presley) to modern R & B (Babyface) . Even Twisted Sister recorded the song. But for many, Drifters & # 39; The 1954 version remains the gold standard.
The Drifters of the early 1950's was a group that had scored hits on rhythm & blues charts like "Money Honey" and "Honey Love". Built around the great tenor Clyde McPhatter, who had just left Billy Ward and the Dominos, the band included Bill Pinkney, brothers Andrew and Gerhart Thrasher and Willie Ferbie.
McPhatter was a revolutionary figure, merging his gospel style with the R & B of the time to create the model of soul music. But McPhatter, singing falsetto, shared the main roles of "White Christmas" with bassist Bill Pinkney, which gave a unique and memorable sound. But it would be years before the song is heard by most Americans … white America.
In the early 1950s, racism predicted black groups like Drifters to be heard on radio stations with a white audience. When "White Christmas" was released, he reached number 2 on the R & B chart of Billboard but only made the number 80 on the pop charts. The song was rarely heard until it was used in the 1990 film Home Alone synchronized by a young Macauley Culkin, who sings into a comb by applying the shaving of his Father.
The appearance of the song in this blockbuster film (and subsequently in The Santa Clause ) made the Drifters & # 39; version a staple on rock, pop and country stations every Christmas season. It has even become a popular internet cartoon by animator Joshua Held. Ironically, the release of the song signaled the end of the first chapter of Drifters & # 39; story.
Clyde McPhatter was enlisted in the army shortly after the release of the song and, thanks to his success, Atlantic Records decided to make McPhatter a solo number. McPhatter followed with two big hits, "A Lover's Question" and "Lover Please," but his success was soon overshadowed by the singers he had inspired. McPhatter died in 1972.
What happened to Bill Pinkney and the other Drifters is part of the history of rock. In 1958, Drifters & # 39; Manager George Treadwell sent the whole group back to the Apollo Theater, replacing them overnight by the members of the Crowns. These "new" Drifters – Ben E. King, Charlie Thomas, Green Doc and Elsbeary Hobbs – and their successors have become one of the most popular singing groups in history, recording iconic hits as " There Goes My Baby, "Save The Last Dance For Me," "Under The Boardwalk," and "Up On The Roof." "
The last of the original Drifters, Bill Pinkney, continued recording and playing with his band until his death in 2007.