The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Sleigh Ride

Music by Leroy Anderson, 1948

Words by Mitchell Parrish 1950

William Studwell, The Christmas Carol Reader

Mitchell Parish (1900-1993) appears to have possessed a rare talent. The lyricist from Shreveport, Louisiana, had a certain knack for associating the songs of an especially high caliber and fame. He provided the words for no less than four American Popular classics -- "Stardust" (music 1927, words 1929) with Hoagy Carmichael, "Deep Purple" ( music 1934, words 1939) with Peter De Rose, "Moonlight Serenade" (1930) with Glenn Miller, and "Sleigh Ride" with Leroy Anderson. Some other familiar songs, including the 1965 Christmas piece, "The White World of Winter," written with composer Hoagy Carmichael, were also products of his collaborative talents.

His creative mate on "Sleigh Ride" was not exactly a one-song phenomenon either. Anderson (1908-1975), born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was one of the most gifted semi-classical composers ever to grace the United States. He was appreciated as a popular and a classical composer, with groups like the Boston Pops Orchestra dedicating programs to him. "Sleigh Ride," composed in 1948, was one of his best efforts. Initially it was solely an instrumental work, and it still is frequently performed that way, but in 1950 Parish performed his habitual act of lyricizing with winners. As a song with word,s "Sleigh Ride" is in the top rank of popular Christmas carols with mood and theme similar to "Jingle Bells," but with definite artistic superiority over the earlier song. As an orchestral work, it is a very fine contribution to the music of the season. In style and imagery, it is a lot lie another and even better instrumental composition, "Troika," from Sergei Prokofiev's 1934 masterpiece, Lieutenant Kije, which exhilaratingly depicts a ride in a three-horse open sleigh..

William L. Simon, ed., Reader’s Digest Merry Christmas Songbook (1981)

Leroy Anderson’s "Sleigh Ride" has the brisk charm of a winter scene in some Currier and Ives print, the horse-drawn sleigh moving gaily over the snow to the sound of sleigh bells and the occasional crack of a whip. It has become a Christmastime classic, although Anderson claimed he composed it in the midst of a sweltering August heat wave in 1948. (Mitchell Parish added lyrics to Anderson ‘s tune two years later.) The song was first performed by Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops Orchestra, for whom Anderson was an arranger, and was such a success with its clip-clops and bells and horse whinnies that it had to be repeated immediately for the audience. "Sleigh Ride" like most Anderson compositions-"The Typewriter" and "The Syncopated Clock" among them-is us American as apple pie, as popular as hot dogs.

November 18, 1998
NIU PROF NAMES "SLEIGH RIDE" CAROL OF THE YEAR FOR 1998
DEKALB -- "Sleigh Ride," one of the most popular holiday songs of the last half century, was brought to life through the collaboration of a lyricist from the deep South and a lifetime New Englander, who may never have met.
A holiday staple on radio since the early 1950s "Sleigh Ride", with it's bouncy up-beat tune and catchy lyrics, has been selected as this year's Christmas Carol of the Year by Northern Illinois University Professor William Studwell, the nation's leading expert on Christmas music. This marks the 13th year that Studwell has continued his tradition of picking a top song.
"It's a first-rate song, I give it a solid A," Studwell said. "It's crisp, distinctive, and it carries you along. You could probably guess what it was about without ever hearing the title," he said, explaining why he chose to honor the song on its 50th anniversary. The song is one of several from that era that have earned distinction in Studwell's eyes, the others being "Carol of the Bells," (1936); "White Christmas," (1942); and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," (1949).
"Sleigh Ride" was written as an instrumental piece in 1948 by LeRoy Anderson, whom Studwell regards as one of the top semi-classical composers ever produced by the United States. His hits include staples of the 1950s such as "The Syncopated Clock," "Blue Tango," and "Fiddle Faddle," all of which can still be heard occasionally today. He often worked as an arranger for the Boston Pops and that orchestra devoted several shows to his work.
Within a year of its writing "Sleigh Ride" had already been recorded several times and was already becoming quite popular.
The tune caught the ear of Mitchell Parish in 1950. A native of Shreveport, LA, Parish at one time worked as the staff lyricist for a music publisher and had a knack for matching just the right lyric with a catchy tune. In 1929 he penned the lyrics for the Hoagy Carmichael classic "Stardust" the music for which was written in 1927; in 1939 he wrote the words for "Deep Purple," which was a 1934 composition by Peter DeRose; and, also in 1939, he teamed with Glen Miller to write "Moonlight Serenade."
The marriage of the music and lyrics quickly pushed the song to new heights of popularity, with stars like Perry Como and Bing Crosby adding it to their holiday repertoires.
"Sleigh Ride" is still often performed as an instrumental, but either version is excellent, Studwell believes. "As a song with words, "Sleigh Ride" is in the top rank of popular Christmas carols, with mood and theme similar to "Jingle Bells" but with definite musical superiority."
Horse drawn sleighs being drawn across the snow has been a popular musical theme for centuries. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote a sleigh ride piece in 1791, following in the footsteps of his father, Leopold, who wrote one in 1755. Perhaps the best ever, however, Studwell believes, is "Troika" from Sergei Prokofiev's 1934 masterpiece, "Lieutenant Kije." Studwell himself even borrowed the theme for an original composition that will soon be published as part of a collection of his carols, "The End of the Year: Twelve Original Holiday Songs," (Lyre of Orpheus Press, Kingsville, TX).
It is not surprising that Studwell decided to try his hand at writi ng some holiday songs. He has spent years researching the topic and has written four books on the topic already in print, "Christmas Carols: A Reference Guide" (1985); "The Christmas Card Songbook" (1990); "The Christmas Carol Reader," (1995); and "Publishing Glad Tidings: Essays on Christmas Music," (1998). He was also selected to edit the text of "The Millenia Collection: Glorious Christmas Music, Songs and Carols," a ten-title multi-media package of text, sound and graphics tentatively due to be released next year by Christmas Classics, Ltd.
His study of carols began in 1972 when he created a pamphlet on "Oh Holy Night" as a gift for a family member. As he has delved into the topic he has come to believe that carols are probably the most influential body of songs in the Western world.
"Carols are international in influence and affect virtually all classes and groups in society," Studwell wrote in "Publishing Glad Tidings." "Furthermore, the relatively small number of important or widely known carols (a few dozen at most) makes the very sizeable cultural impact of the carol even more notable."
Studwell, who is the principal cataloguer at NIU's Founders Memorial Library is also a recognized expert on other such "underappreciated" forms of music as college fight songs, state songs, patriotic songs, and circus music. He has also written on ballet, opera, and popular music.

Additional history about the origin of this song came to light in December, 2010. ASCAP announced that "Sleigh Ride" was the most-played song on the radio for the second year in a row. The news release about the most played holiday songs in 2010 had this quotation concerning it's origin:

Commenting on the news, Mrs. Eleanor Anderson, widow of Leroy Anderson and President of Woodbury Music Company, publisher of many of Mr. Anderson's compositions, said: "Leroy conceived of 'Sleigh Ride' one hot July day in 1946. He was digging trenches in an attempt to locate an abandoned pipe that might bring water to a dried-up well that served our small Connecticut cottage. He didn't find the pipe, but he came in saying he had the idea for a new composition. He thought he would begin it with rhythmic sleigh bells. So, he didn't find the pipe, but he found 'Sleigh Ride' instead. None of us could have guessed that it could just ride on and on, and become the most-played holiday song in 2010."

In its 2007 update of most-played holiday songs, "Sleigh Ride" ranked first. The news release observed ""Sleigh Ride" is the only holiday song on the list written originally as an instrumental piece for a symphony orchestra. The Boston Pops Orchestra gave the first performance in a concert conducted by Arthur Fiedler at Symphony Hall in Boston, May 4, 1948. Mills Music published it that same year. The Boston Pops Orchestra recorded it in June of 1949. Mitchell Parish added lyrics in 1949."

"Sleigh Ride" has consistently ranked in the top ten holiday song listings released by ASCAP. In 2009, ASCAP released its most-played holiday songs of the decade. "Sleigh Ride" ranked at number 3 in that listing, behind (1) "Winter Wonderland" and (2) "The Christmas Song" (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).

In 2008, ASCAP released its list of its most-played holiday songs for the preceeding five years. "Sleigh Ride" ranked fourth in that listing. behind "Winter Wonderland," "The Christmas Song," and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."

It should be noted that this listing is only of songs licensed by ASCAP, one of three music licensing companies in the United States. The other two are BMI and SESAC. While it is an indication of popularity, it is not a listing, for example, of overall song popularity. In such surveys, "Silent Night" frequently tops the list.

The complete 2010 news story from ASCAP is reproduced below.


* * * * *

"Sleigh Ride" Tops ASCAP's List of Most-Played Holiday Songs in 2010
"Just Hear Those Sleigh Bells Jingling..." 174,758 Times!

New York, NY, December 22, 2010: With just three days left until Christmas, ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) today released its final listing of 2010's most-played holiday songs, based on performance data tracked by airplay monitoring service, Mediaguide, from over 2,500 radio stations nationwide.

From 10/1/10 to 12/19/10, "Sleigh Ride" has aired 174,758 times, making it the most-played holiday song on radio for the second year in a row. "Sleigh Ride" was played 118,918 times during the same time period last year.

Commenting on the news, Mrs. Eleanor Anderson, widow of Leroy Anderson and President of Woodbury Music Company, publisher of many of Mr. Anderson's compositions, said: "Leroy conceived of 'Sleigh Ride' one hot July day in 1946. He was digging trenches in an attempt to locate an abandoned pipe that might bring water to a dried-up well that served our small Connecticut cottage. He didn't find the pipe, but he came in saying he had the idea for a new composition. He thought he would begin it with rhythmic sleigh bells. So, he didn't find the pipe, but he found 'Sleigh Ride' instead. None of us could have guessed that it could just ride on and on, and become the most-played holiday song in 2010."

The top 10 most-played ASCAP holiday songs are:

1. "Sleigh Ride" – played 174,758 times
Written by Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish
Most popular artist version performed by Leroy Anderson

2. "Winter Wonderland" – played 156,441 times
Written by Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith
Most popular artist version performed by Eurythmics

3. "Jingle Bell Rock" – played 135,200 times
Written by Joseph Carleton Beal, James Ross Boothe
Most popular artist version performed by Bobby Helms

4."It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" – played 124,883 times
Writte n by Edward Pola, George Wyle
Most popular artist version performed by Andy Williams

5. "White Christmas" – played 113,290 times
Written by Irving Berlin
Most popular artist version performed by Bing Crosby

6. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" – played 108,964 times
Written by Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin
Most popular artist version performed by The Carpenters

7. "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas" – played 101,433 times
Written by Meredith Willson
Most popular artist version performed by Bing Crosby

8. "Frosty the Snowman" – played 88,546 times
Written by Steve Nelson, Walter E. Rollins
Most popular artist version performed by Jimmy Durante

9. Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree – played 87,736 times
Written by: Johnny Marks
Most popular artist version performed by Brenda Lee

10. "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting...) " – played 84,049 times
Written by Mel Tormé, Robert Wells
Most popular artist version performed by Nat King Cole

Note: The list represents an aggregation of all different artist versions of each cited holiday song played on radio from 10/1/10 through 12/19/10. Each song includes songwriter credits, and cites the most popular artist version currently being played on radio.

About Mediaguide
Mediaguide, co-owned by ASCAP, uses proprietary digital fingerprinting and watermarking technology to monitor and measure music and advertisement airplay on more than 2,500 commercial, non-commercial and college radio stations in over 150 US markets, real time, 24/7.

 

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