continued The earliest known public performance of “White Christmas” was on Christmas Day, 1941, when Bing Crosby sang the ballad on NBC radio’s The Kraft Music Hall. He recorded it for Decca at a session with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers, and the song was featured in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn co-starring Fred Astaire.
By invoking the emotions which naturally surface around cherished family holidays, “White Christmas” struck a chord with soldiers and sailors spending a lonely Christmas overseas. Its deft mix of melancholy — “just like the ones I used to know” — with comforting images of home — “where the treetops glisten” — resonated strongly with listeners.
In a 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal, critic Roy Harris Jr. described the song’s timeless appeal:
“It was a peaceful song that became a wartime classic. Its unorthodox, melancholy melody — and mere 54 words, expressing the simple yearning for a return to happier times — sounded instantly familiar when sung by America’s favorite crooner. But 67 years after its introduction, some still are surprised to learn that Bing Crosby’s recording of the Irving Berlin ballad ‘White Christmas’ became not only the runaway smash-hit for the World War II holidays, but the best-selling record of all time.”
Research by The Guinness Book of World Records indicates that “White Christmas” sold more than 50 million copies as compared to the second-sellingest single of all-time, Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” which moved 33 million units.
Crosby’s version of the song was ranked No. 2 on the “Songs of the Century” list compiled in 2001 by the Recording Industry Association of America, second only to Judy Garland’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow.”
The 1954 film production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas starred Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen and showcased marvelous Berlin tunes including “Blue Skies,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and “Happy Holidays.”