Little Drummer Boy under the microscope

“Come, they told me.. pa-rum pum pum pum“.

You know that carol! The Little Drummer Boy is one of the greats. 

There are many versions. The most special surely the one recorded by Bing Crosby and David Bowie – with the secondary title “Peace on Earth”. It intermingles the “The Little Drummer Boy” with new lyrics.

“Peace on Earth , can it be?”” sings Bowie

Bing sings next with “Come they told me Pa-rum pum pum pum”

Bowie then answers his own question “Years from now, perhaps we’ll see” (which is so sad because here we are in 2023 with much war raging)

Bing then sings “A newborn king to see” and so on. 

It is a haunting version and we recommend you play it today to everyone in your house. 

‘The Little Drummer Boy’ remains as popular as when it was released in 1941 when it was written by American composer Katherine Kennicott Davis. 

It was first published with the title ‘Carol of the Drum’, and described as a ‘Czech carol”. So it’s likely to have been based on a Czech melody.

Given the timing of the carol’s publication, during the Second World War, it’s not outrageous to presume there was a nod to the military world as drummers have been used in battle since the 13th-century in China, right up to the early years of the 20th century, when used for ceremonial use only.

And this link would explain the carol’s sombre mood and the pathos of the little drummer’s resilience and determination.

Apart from Bing and Bowie the carol has been recorded by loads of high-profile artists including Johnny Cash (1963), Joan Baez (1966), and Justin Bieber (2011).

The icon of the ‘drummer boy’ emerged, in its romanticised form, around the time of the US Civil War (1861-1865). Drummers were used on the battlefield to keep time, and regulate and maintain the marching of troops.

Their role demanded that they be at the front and unarmed.

However, this little drummer is not a military character. 

In fact, the carol’s lyrics suggest he is a young drummer marching to attend the birth of Jesus Christ. He is too poor to afford a gift for the son of God so, at the behest of the newborn’s mother, Mary, the young drummer continues to drum instead of giving a material gift.

“I played my best for Him, Then He smiled at me,” the lyrics say as the drummer gives the gift of his music.

Ah, so beautiful! The best things and people in life are free after all.

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