Johnny Marks, the Christmas Songwriter

Johnny Marks, the Christmas Songwriter

The Montgomery Ward department store in Chicago used to give way books to children at Christmas. In 1939, a catalog writer for Montgomery Ward named Robert L. May came up with an idea for a new book and wrote the story of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Montgomery Ward gave away two million copies, which were a great hit with kids, teachers, and store managers.

In 1948, May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote a song based on the book. He offered it to Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, who both passed on it. But Gene Autry recorded it, and it became a huge hit for him. Here is Autry performing “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1953:

Marks went on to write many more Christmas songs, including the music for the TV Christmas Special about Rudolph, which first aired in 1964.

“A Holly Jolly Christmas”:

“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, sung by Brenda Lee:

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”:

“The Night Before Christmas”:

Ironically, Johnny Marks never celebrated Christmas–he was Jewish. He passed away in 1985.

About Andrea R Huelsenbeck

Andrea R Huelsenbeck is a wife, a mother of five and a former elementary general music teacher. A freelance writer in the 1990s, her nonfiction articles and book reviews appeared in Raising Arizona Kids, Christian Library Journal, and other publications. She is currently working on a young adult mystical fantasy novel and a mystery.

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