BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A Christmas classic written in Birmingham has been making the Yuletide gay for over seven decades.
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was written — and rewritten — in the Magic City by Hugh Martin, a Birmingham native who became world-renowned for his theater and film compositions.
According to his autobiography, “The Boy Next Door,” Martin was raised in Birmingham’s Southside, in a home on 15th Avenue South walking distance from St. Mary’s on the Highlands and the Vulcan. He attended the Birmingham Conservatory of Music and Birmingham-Southern College, where he was trained as a classical pianist.
Although “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” has taken on a life of its own outside of film, the classic tune first appeared in the 1945 film “Meet Me in St. Louis,” starring Judy Garland.
Garland did not like the first version of the song, which had lyrics she considered too dark to sing to a child:
“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
It may be your last
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Pop that champagne cork
Next year we will all be living in New York
No good times like the olden days,
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were near to us,
Will be near to us no more“
Martin recalled the incident in his later years.
“She said, ‘If I sing that, little Margaret will cry and they’ll think I’m a monster,'” Martin wrote in his autobiography. “So I was young then and kind of arrogant, and I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry you don’t like it, Judy, but that’s the way it is, and I don’t really want to write a new lyric.'”
Eventually, Martin relented, changing the lyrics to the ones used in “Meet Me in St. Louis” — lyrics that have become a Christmas tradition at celebrations across the country.
A few years later, Frank Sinatra asked for another rewrite, again asking that the song be made “lighter.”
So Martin reworked the lyrics once again, this time while walking down Highland Avenue in Birmingham, changing the line “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” to “hang a shining star upon the highest bow.”
No matter the version, the song has become a classic, re-recorded by the likes of Michael Buble, Coldplay, Josh Groban, Phoebe Bridgers and John Legend. In 2020, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) ranked the song as their 10th most played holiday tune.