December 4th: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas ” Judy Garland

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas“, a song written by Hugh Martinand Ralph Blane, was introduced by Judy Garlandin the 1944 MGMmusical Meet Me in St. Louis. Frank Sinatra later recorded a version with modified lyrics. In 2007, ASCAPranked it the third most performed Christmas song during the preceding five years that had been written by ASCAP members. In 2004 it finished at No. 76 in AFI’s “100 years… 100 songs”  rankings of the top tunes in American cinema.

The song was written while Martin was vacationing in a flat in the neighborhood of Southside in Birmingham, Alebama, that his father Hugh Martin designed for his mother as a honeymoon cottage. Located at 1919 South 15th Avenue (just down the street from his birthplace at 1900 South 14th Avenue), the house became the home of Martin and his family in 1923. The song first appeared in a scene in Meet Me in St. Louis, in which a family is distraught by the father’s plans to move to New York City for a job promotion, leaving behind their beloved home in St. Louis, Missouri, just before the long-anticipated  1904 World’s Fair begins. In a scene set on Christmas Eve, Judy Garland’s character, Esther, sings the song to cheer up her despondent five-year-old sister, Tootie, played by Margaret O’Brien.

Some of the original lyrics that were penned by Martin were rejected before filming began. When presented with the original draft lyric, Garland, her co-star Tom Drake and director Vincente Minelli criticized the song as depressing, and asked Martin to change the lyrics. Though he initially resisted, Martin made several changes to make the song more upbeat. For example, the lines “It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past” became “Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight”. Garland’s version of the song, which was also released as a single by Decca Records, became popular among United States troops serving in World Wat II; her performance at the Hollywood Canteen brought many soldiers to tears


 

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