The Little Drummer Boy

"The Little Drummer Boy"
Single Harry Simeone Chorale-The Little Drummer Boy cover.gif
Single by Harry Simeone Chorale
Released 19 December 1958 (1958-12-19)
Length 3:03
Label 20th Fox

"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] First recorded in 1951 by the Trapp Family Singers, the song was further popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale; the Simeone 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 of Jesus. Without a gift for the Infant, the little drummer boy played his drum with approval from Jesus' mother, Mary, recalling, "I played my best for him" and "He smiled at me".


K.K. Davis' "The Little Drummer Boy" was first recorded in 1950 as "Carol of the Drum"

The song was originally titled "Carol of the Drum" and was published by Davis based upon a traditional Czech song. 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.[3][4] 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 1951 on their first album for Decca. Their version was credited solely to Davis and published by Belwin-Mills.[5]

In 1957 it was recorded, with a slightly altered arrangement by Jack Halloran for his Jack Halloran Singers on their Dot Records album Christmas Is A-Comin'. This arrangement is the one commonly sung today.[2] However, the recording was not released as a single that year. In response to this, Dot producer Henry Onorati, who left Dot to become the new head of 20th Century Fox Records in 1958[6], introduced the song to Harry Simeone. When 20th Century Fox Records contracted with Simeone to make a Christmas album, Simeone hired many of the same singers that had sung in Halloran's version and made a near-identical recording with his newly created Harry Simeone Chorale.[2][7][8] It was released as a single in 1958[7], and later on the album, Sing We Now of Christmas. The only difference between Simeone's version and Halloran's version, was that Simeone's contained finger cymbals, and had been retitled The Little Drummer Boy.[2] Simeone and Onorati claimed and received joint composition credits with Davis[2], although the two did not actually compose, write, or arrange it.[7][8] Halloran never received a writing credit for the song, something his family disagrees with.[7][8][9]

The album and the song were an enormous success[10], with the single scoring in the top 40 of the U.S. music charts from 1958 to 1962.[7] In 1965, Simeone, who had signed with Kapp Records in 1964, re-recorded a new version of the song for his album O' Bambino: The Little Drummer Boy.[11] This version (3:18 play time) was recorded in stereo, had a slightly slower tempo, and contained different-sounding cymbals. Simeone recorded the song a third and final time in 1981 (3:08 play time), for an album, again titled, The Little Drummer Boy, on the budget Holiday Records label.

Other versions

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


  • 1957: The Jack Halloran Singers included "Carol of the Drum" on their Christmas album, Christmas Is A-Comin'[2][7][8]
  • 1958: The Vienna Boys Choir sang the song "The Little Drummer Boy" in USA TV on 22 December. Conductor was Gerhard Lang
  • 1959: The Beverley Sisters' version reached No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart


  • 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. The arrangement was by Peter Schickele
  • 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 rehearsed an instrumental version of the tune, together with "Silent Night" and "Auld Lang Syne", in preparation for a New Year's Eve/Day 1969/1970 performance at the Fillmore East in New York City. The 19 December 1969, session was recorded along with a batch of new material with his new backing musicians, Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums, at a rehearsal facility in Manhattan. However, Hendrix only performed "Auld Lang Syne" at the Fillmore. His later producers and record companies released the rehearsal recording several times, including on the extended play compact disc, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (1999), with a cover photo of Hendrix wearing a red cloak and white Santa beard.[12] The CD occasionally appears on record charts around the holidays, including at No. 10 on "Hot Canadian Digital Song Sales" in 2002.[13]




  • 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.


  • Take 6 released a version of the song on their Christmas album, He Is Christmas
  • 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"
  • Brave Combo recorded a version of the song on their album It's X-mas, Man!
  • 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


  • 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; using 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 compilation album, A Very Unschooled Christmas; re-released on Decomposure's own compilation album, Songs from Old Headphones
  • 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

Since 2010

  • Richard Marx recorded the song and filmed a promotional music video for his album, Christmas Spirit, which reached No. 13 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart (returning to the chart after 15 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" (featuring Mike Portnoy on drums) for the album A Proggy Christmas
  • Lincoln Brewster on Joy To The World, with a rendition with Christian rapper KJ-52


Covers in other languages

  • 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 personality Jus Reign for his Geeta Brothers Presents - Punjabi Christmas Album.
  • A Finnish version of the song, entitled "Pieni Rumpali" (meaning "Little Drummer"), was recorded by Ville Tuomi for the second Raskasta Joulua album, Raskaampaa Joulua, and included vocals from Sonata Arctica frontman Tony Kakko. It was recorded a second time by Finnish band Northern Kings (Of which Kakko is also a member) for the 2013 album. In 2015, Kakko collaborated with Apocalyptica cellist Eicca Toppinen to record another version.
  • Marlene Dietrich has made a cover in German.


  1. ^ Boughton, Harrison Charles (1977). "Katherine K. Davis: life and work". Ann Arbor, Michigan: Thesis, University of Missouri, reprint by University Microfilms. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ a b c d e f Leigh, Spencer (5 March 2005). "Harry Simeone Populariser of 'The Little Drummer Boy'". Independent. Archived from the original on 27 November 2019. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  3. ^ "Image of original manuscript in Wellesley College Library". Archived from the original on 4 January 2012. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  4. ^ Cummings, Robert. "Allmusic biography". Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  5. ^ "Scan of published sheet music". Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  6. ^ Anonymous, "20th Fox set with 1st Disk Releases." Billboard April 21, 1958.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "The Little Drummer Boy by The Harry Simeone Chorale Songfacts". 11 September 1977. Archived from the original on 25 November 2019. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  8. ^ a b c d Estrella, E. (8 February 2019). How the 'Little Drummer Boy' Christmas Carol Came to Be. Retrieved from
  9. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (2002). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Fifties Music (Third ed.). Virgin Books. p. 394. ISBN 1-85227-937-0.
  10. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Harry Simeone Chorale". AllMusic, Netaktion LLC. Archived from the original on 12 June 2020. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  11. ^ Record catalogue number: KL-1450, Track 1, Length 3:18.
  12. ^ McDermott, John (1999). Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (CD notes). Jimi Hendrix. Universal City, California: MCA Records. pp. 2–3. 088 155 651-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  13. ^ "Jimi Hendrix Chart Histor: Hot Canadian Digital Song Sales – "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year"". Retrieved 5 December 2019.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  14. ^ Crosby, Bing; Bowie, David (7 December 2010). "Bing Crosby & David Bowie - The Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth". YouTube. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  15. ^ "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town/Little Drummer Boy | Björn Again Album | Yahoo! Music". Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  16. ^ "Animaniacs: Little Drummer Warners - Season 1, Episode 246". Retrieved 31 December 2011.
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  19. ^ "Bandaged: The Album".
  20. ^ Peter Vidani. "Comedy Death-Ray Xmas". Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  21. ^ "Duwende - Little Drummer Boy (A Cappella)". YouTube. 28 November 2011. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  22. ^ [Official Video] Little Drummer Boy - Pentatonix. YouTube. 25 November 2013.
  23. ^ Retrieved 3 January 2014
  24. ^ "Song Premiere: Reggie And The Full Effect, "Little Black Metal Drummer Boy by Common Denominator" - Features - Alternative Press". Alternative Press. 20 December 2013.
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  26. ^ Little Drummer Boy | NTNU Version, 12 December 2016, retrieved 12 December 2016
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External links