The Little Drummer Boy

"The Little Drummer Boy"
Single by Harry Simeone Chorale
Released 19 October 1958 (1958-10-19)
Format 7-inch single
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 Jesus' mother, Mary's approval; recalling, "I played my best for Him" and "He smiled at me."


The song was originally titled "Carol of the Drum" and was published by Davis based upon a traditional Czech carol. 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 1955, shortly before they retired: their version was credited solely to Davis and published by Belwin-Mills.[5] 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[6] 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.[2]

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 by Casablanca Records,[2] and subsequently, on Island Records.[7] 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.[2] 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 (French: Our Lady's Juggler), which was adapted into an opera 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

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) in all kinds of music genres:


  • 1957: The Jack Halloran Singers included "Carol of the Drum" on their Christmas album, Christmas Is A-Comin'
  • 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
  • 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 recorded a cover of the song, his last recording before his death the following year, 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
  • 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.


  1. Boughton, Harrison Charles (1977). "Katherine K. Davis: life and work". Ann Arbor, Michigan: Thesis, University of Missouri, reprint by University Microfilms.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Leigh, Spencer (2005-03-05). "Harry Simeone: Populariser of 'The Little Drummer Boy'". The Independent. Retrieved 2008-12-18.
  3. "Image of original manuscript in Wellesley College Library". Archived from the original on 4 January 2012. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
  4. Cummings, Robert. "Allmusic biography". Retrieved 2011-12-31.
  5. "Scan of published sheet music". Retrieved 2011-12-31.
  6. "The Little Drummer Boy by The Harry Simeone Chorale Songfacts". 1977-09-11. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
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  8. The Temptations Christmas Card
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  19. "Song Premiere: Reggie And The Full Effect, "Little Black Metal Drummer Boy by Common Denominator" - Features - Alternative Press". Alternative Press.
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