“Mary’s Boy Child” by Harry Belafonte
Without an atom of doubt, “Mary’s Boy Child” is one of the most popular Christmas songs ever composed. The lyrics basically center around the birth of Jesus Christ and the joy it brings mankind.
The Significance of the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior
The reason many consider Jesus’ birth as a momentous occasion is simply because it marked the moment God assumed the form of a human to live on Earth. According to the Christian religion, had it not been for that miraculous birth, God’s spirit wouldn’t be available to humans. And the absence of His spirit on Earth would leave mankind without any joy, hope of salvation and the opportunity to enjoy eternal life. So Jesus came down to Earth as a man to ensure we humans have access to the aforementioned priceless gifts.
It is for this reason that the “day Jesus was born” (Christmas) is one of the most important festivals in the Christian calendar.
It should be noted that the exact day and month when Jesus was born are unknown. However, several centuries ago, Christians decided to make December the 25th as date of the Savior’s birth.
So accordingly, in the song “Mary’s Boy Child”, the narrator happily tells the tale of how the Savior’s birth took place in Bethlehem and how man will enjoy everlasting life because of this.
FYI, Bethlehem is a town/city located in Jerusalem. According to the Bible, this town is where Jesus was actually born.
Who wrote “Mary’s Boy Child”?
“Mary’s Boy Child” was written by the legendary composer, choral conductor and songwriter, Jester Hairston.
The Song’s Birth
Hairston reportedly first composed this song at the behest of a friend who wanted a birthday party song. The song, which had circular lyrics, went by a different title to match the theme of the lyrics. According to reports, Hairston originally titled it “He Pone and Chocolate Tea”.
Later, American composer for TV, the theater and film Walter Schumann asked Hairston if he could compose a Christmas song to be performed by his choir. With an answer in the affirmative, Hairston commenced work on the song.
He borrowed the rhythm from the birthday party song he had composed earlier and came up with entirely new lyrics for the song. At the end of the day, he had created a brand new Christmas tune which he titled “Mary’s Boy Child”. Schuman loved what he heard and performed the song with his choir.
Harry Belafonte records the Song
Belafonte heard the song for the first time during one of Schumann’s choir’s performances of it. He instantly took a liking to it and decided to cover it in 1956. His rendition was so successful it scored him a No. 1 hit in the United Kingdom. In addition to that, the song recorded sales of over a million copies in Britain alone.
Upon attaining the number 1 spot on the UK Singles Chart, Belafonte broke numerous records in that region. For example, up until that point no black male musical act had ever achieved a number 1 hit single there. Also, the song holds the distinction of being one of the first songs to sell a million copies there. Simply put, it is one of Britain’s first million-selling singles.
When did Belafonte officially release “Mary’s Boy Child”?
Belafonte recorded this classic at the Grand Ballroom studio in New York City and released it as a single in 1956 from his “An Evening with Belafonte” album.
The eleven tracked album itself was released in 1957 by the music label, RCA Victor, owned by Sony Music.
Since Belafonte released his successful version of “Mary’s Boy Child” in 1956, the song has been covered by a string of notable musical acts. Some of these renowned acts include the below:
- Tom Jones (1993)
- Roger Whittaker (1984)
- Rename (2004)
- Nora Aunor (1973)
- Human Nature (2013)
- Dana (1980)
- Boney M. (1978)
- Andy Williams (1965)
It should be noted that of all the covers out there, Boney M.’s is currently the most successful. Their version (“Mary’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord”), which came out in 1978, topped the official singles charts in the UK for approximately 4 weeks. And just like Belafonte’s version, theirs was also a Christmas number one hit that sold more than 1 million copies in the UK alone.