As far as holiday music goes, the Irving Berlin-penned “White Christmas” is a staple on nearly every holiday playlist. And while covers by the likes of Frank Sinatra, the Drifters, Bette Midler, Garth Brooks and Andrea Bocelli have been released, none is as classic as the version sung by Spokane’s own Bing Crosby.
A new digital exhibit from Gonzaga University, “A Christmas Classic: Bing, Berlin and the Story of ‘White Christmas’,” examines the history of the song; Berlin, a Russian Jewish immigrant; Crosby, an Irish Catholic; and the history of Christmas tradition in America.
“A Christmas Classic,” which can be found at achristmasclassic.org, is the creation of Cole Fairbairn and Mary Cate Babcock, students in History 364: Introduction to Public History, and Ray Rast, associate professor of history.
The exhibit is divided into six sections, plus a conclusion. Section I: Irving Berlin and His American Music details Berlin’s upbringing and his early years as a songwriter. Section II: The Creation of “White Christmas” explains the inspiration behind the song and how Crosby became involved with the film “Holiday Inn,” which featured the song.
Section III: Christmas in America Before the 1940s explores how Americans celebrated Christmas before the war, while Section IV: Supporting the War Effort examines how Berlin and Crosby performed for the troops and how many soldiers listened to their music to feel a little less homesick.
In Section V: A New Era of Christmas Entertainment, Fairbairn, Babcock and Rast explain that the success of “White Christmas” led to a wave of Christmas songs and movies centered on snow, sleigh rides, family and faith. Section VI: An Americanized Christmas Tradition explores the growth of the commercial aspect of Christmas and how the holiday has become more inclusive over the years.
In the conclusion, “The Best Song Anybody Ever Wrote,” the title of which is taken from a Berlin quote about the song, Fairbairn, Babcock and Rast explain why “White Christmas,” especially Crosby’s version, is still so beloved.
The section ends with a quote from Crosby. “It’s a great song with a simple melody, and nowadays anywhere I go, I have to sing it. It’s as much a part of me as … my floppy ears.”
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