"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 1955 by the Trapp Family Singers[2] 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.[3]

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."


 [hide*1 Origins


The song was originally titled "Carol of the Drum" and was published by Davis as based upon a traditional Czech carol.[4] Davis's interest was in producing material for amateur and girls' choirs: her manuscript is set as a chorale, the tune in the soprano 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.[5][6]

Although Davis did search far and wide for suitable material, the Czech original has never been identified, though the style is comparable with the Czech "Rocking Carol", a lullaby collected in the early 20th century by a Miss Jacubickova as "Hajej, nynjej" and given English words by Percy Dearmer for the Oxford Book of Carols in 1928. The tune of the "Rocking Carol", however, bears almost no resemblance to that of "Carol of the Drum", as may be heard in several places online.

"Carol of the Drum" appealed to the Austrian von Trapp singers, who first brought the song to wider prominence when they recorded it in 1955, shortly before they retired: their version was credited solely to Davis and published by Belwin-Mills.[7] 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[8] 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.[3]

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 byCasablanca Records,[3] and subsequently, on Island Records.[9] 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.[3] 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 (FrenchOur Lady's Juggler), which was adapted into anopera 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 versions[edit]Edit

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." This difference in lyrics may seem odd until one realizes that an ox and donkey are depicted in paintings of the Nativity going all the way back to ancient icons of the event. They recall the biblical prophecies of Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 1:3: "The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib."
  • 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 number 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.


  • Joan Baez recorded a version of the song for her Christmas album, Noël.
  • 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.
  • Stevie Wonder released a version of the song on his Christmas album, Someday at Christmas.
  • A version of the song by Lou Rawls was both released as a Capitol single and included on his Christmas album, Merry Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho!.
  • Jimi Hendrix recorded a cover of the song, which was later included on his 1999 holiday EP, Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.




  • 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.


  • 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.[13]
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bad Religion recorded the song for their holiday album, Christmas Songs.
  • Walk off the Earth recorded the song for the iTunes session series album, live off the floor.
  • Pentatonix on November 25 released on YouTube[18] a video in which they cover Little Drummer Boy to the background of Los Angeles.
  • On December 15 Bellevue Presbyterian Church of Bellevue, Washington performed an arrangement of the song called "Drummer Boy", released on vimeo,[19] featuring over 100 children from four youth choirs.
  • The Christian rock duo For King & Country record the song for their Christmas EP, Into the Silent Night.
  • The Ten Minute Podcast starring Will SassoBryan Callen and Chris D'Elia in the episode "Serious Christmas Singing For Real".
  • In 2013 Jonathan Butler recorded it on Merry Christmas to You [20]

Covers in other languages[edit]Edit

  • 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".
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