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Where Christmas Music Lived

We all know our favorite holidays songs. But do you know where they came from?

By Ron Clancy, North Cape May, New Jersey

As appeared in

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight,” went his lyric—a message that he yearned for a similar peace in his homeland.

A plaque marking Irving Berlin's longtime residenceNew York, New York
Do You Hear What I Hear? and White Christmas

I saved New York City for last. First I hoofed it to the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 50th Street, and inside what was then the Beverly and is now the Benjamin Hotel. P

ianist Gloria Shayne was playing in the hotel’s dining room. Composer Noel Regney was instantly smitten. The two married and in 1962 together wrote Do You Hear What I Hear? as a hymn to peace in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and not originally a Christmas song.

My final stop was 17 Beekman Place, in Midtown East, for decades Irving Berlin’s home. The composer of the classics God Bless America, Easter Parade and Puttin’ on the Ritz believed his best song was White Christmas.

Christmas had always been a sad day for Berlin. He lost a son Christmas Day 1928, and over time grew increasingly reclusive. In 1983, when he was 95, carolers gathered outside his home and serenaded him with his wonderful song.

His maid invited them all inside. Berlin greeted them and told them how touched he was by their gesture. Carolers continued to serenade him through 1988, the last Christmas of his life, and still gather to sing outside his home—now the Luxembourg House, the country’s United Nations consulate.

I was back in Cape May the next day sweeping Renate into my arms.

“Thank you,” I said. “This was the Christmas present of a lifetime.”

 

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