The Little Drummer Boy Christmas Medley

by Kinloch Nelson

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Years ago when I was a youngster growing up in Massachusetts there was a neighbor in the property behind our house that had a summer vegetable garden. Her name was Katherine K Davis. From time to time I would raid the place. Cherry tomatoes, sometimes strawberries and raspberries: hard for a boy to resist back then during those barefoot summers. Years later, as I began to think about a music career my mother told me that this neighbor used to be in the music business, had been a teacher, and a composer, and had written a popular song. Maybe I should go talk to her. So, I mustered up my courage, and hoping that she had never seen me in the garden, hopped on my bike and rode around the block and walked up to her front door. Walking through the backyards just wouldn’t do. Anyway she came to the door and I introduced myself and attempted to find out what I could about her journey into music.

As a young woman she studied at a local music school in our town of Concord Massachusetts, and went on from there to The New England Conservatory in Boston. Later she studied at Wellesley College, ended up teaching there for a while and then taught music at Concord Academy where friends of mine had gone to school along with John Kennedy’s daughter back in the day. Over her long career she composed operas, children’s operettas, piano and organ pieces, choral pieces, and many songs including one song in particular that I knew and loved, “The Little Drummer Boy,” composed in 1941. The song’s original title, “The Carol Of The Drum,” got changed to “The Little Drummer Boy” when it was released as a holiday season popular song by the Harry Simeon Chorale in 1958. I can still hear that song reverberating around in our little town on the radio, in churches, in stores, and at school holiday concerts in those days.

I don’t recall much of what we talked about. The truth is she was not too forthcoming. This was in the late 1970’s that I spoke to her and she took ill in 1979 and died in 1980, the day after the Patriot’s Day Parade - a big deal in our little town. She had some rough times in the music business. Harry Simeon, who made a big hit with “Little Drummer Boy” had claimed the royalties on the tune. Katherine eventually got her name back on the song, but the story is the lawsuit went on for ages and wore her out.

At any rate, despite the strangeness of the meeting I did go into music, and unfortunately never saw her again. Eventually I got around to making an arrangement of her song, arranging it with two other carols. I first recorded this medley at a live gig with a rock trio. Tied to a song called “The Voice Within,” it was our holiday offering that night. Over the years I kept playing it seasonally on the acoustic guitar. But when the harp guitar entered my world the tune found found new wings. I hope you enjoy “The Little Drummer Boy” and a few other Christmas favorites in this harp guitar Christmas medley.

-- Kinloch Nelson - Nov 2019

Kinloch Nelson's 'Partly on Time : Recordings 1968-1970' is available now.

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released November 29, 2019

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Tompkins Square San Francisco, California

Tompkins Square label, established in 2005, has released acclaimed recordings by artists such as William Tyler, Ryley Walker and Michael Chapman as well as reissues of folk, old-timey, gospel and American Primitive Guitar. The label has received 8 Grammy nominations. ... more

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