The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

(Lyrics: Alfred Burt, Words: Wilha Hutson)

William Studwell, The Christmas Carol Reader

Most typically, Christmas songs which became successful among twentieth-century American audiences are launched via the mass media. The high exposure of radio, television, and motion pictures is extremely valuable for catching the attention of the public. Yet there is a recent American carol which did not have the advantage of such media promotion, nor did it have the benefit of presentation in a hymnal or other important church publication, nor was it associated with a familiar or established name. Despite these obstacles, "Caroling, Caroling" has been slowly but progressively working its way into the American holiday season.

"Caroling, Caroling" is the best-known song of the body of 15 carols collectively called the "Alfred Burt Carols." They were named after the composer of the music, Alfred S. Burt (1919 or 1920-1954), who died at the extremely young age of 34. Burt, who was obscure at the time of the publication of his carols (1954), still remains obscure today in spite of the increasing success of "Caroling, Caroling" and some of his other carols such as "Some Children See Him" and "The Star Carol." The lyricists for the Alfred Burt carols were Wilha Hutson, who wrote the verses for the three songs mentioned above as well as others, and Burt's minister father Bates Gilbert Burt (1878-1948). Originally written for children, and as annual Christmas gifts, the carols tend to be religious in content and simple and inhibited in style.

Among recent carols dealing with the theme of Christmas singing, "Caroling, Caroling" is perhaps the leading example, but "A Caroling We Go," composed in 1966 by Johnny Marks of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" fame, may also vie for that distinction. Altogether, the Alfred Burt Carols comprise one of the most significant bodies of holiday songs ever produced by one artists. They perhaps may never become highly familiar international favorites. But they have sufficient esthetic merit and have gained sufficient public attention to have been honored by the performance of a medley by the superlative Boston Pops Orchestra.


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