The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

#294 / Dec. 22 Podcast

We have a Christmas confession. Honestly, we don’t really care that much for Christmas music.

Oh, we’re not scrooges or anything — well, a few of us are — but mainly it’s just the nature of Christmas songs themselves. The chord patterns are not especially easy to remember, and since you do them only a few days or weeks every year, you don’t get a chance to get real cozy with them.

Plus, well, frankly Christmas tunes generally don’t swing. (Put a beat behind “Little Town of Bethlehem” and there will be repercussions….)

But here’s one that does fit the Flood groove nicely, especially when the merriest of our merry band — Danny Cox and Floodster Emerita Michelle Hoge — lead the way.

About the Song

Written in 1943 as a vehicle for Judy Garland in the MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was later recorded by Frank Sinatra with modified lyrics and quickly became part of America’s standard Christmas set list on radios across the nation.

In fact, ASCAP regularly ranks it among the five most performed Christmas song each year, along with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and The Christmas Song.”

MGM hired Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane to write several songs for its movie, which gave “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” a memorable setup.

In the scene in which the song is debuted, a family is distraught by the father's plans to move to New York City for a job promotion, leaving behind their beloved St. Louis home. It is Christmas Eve and Judy Garland's character sings the song to cheer up her despondent baby sister.


Although Ralph Blane is credited with writing the music for many of Hugh Martin's songs, Martin later claimed in his autobiography that he wrote both music and lyrics to all of the songs in this movie.

"I was reasonably content to let him receive equal screen credit, sheet music credit, ASCAP royalties, etc.,” Martin wrote, “mainly because this bizarre situation was caused by my naive and atrocious lack of business acumen."

If Martin was indeed doing double duty on the songs, it might explain why he had so much trouble with this particular tune. For instance, before filming began, some of Martin’s original lyrics were rejected by director Vincente Minnelli, who found them depressing.

Martin wrote several changes to make the song more upbeat. In particular, the lines "…. It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past" became "Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.”

Swinging the Season

While Judy Garland sang it straight — very straight — in the movie, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” started swinging with Sinatra’s 1948 treatment. Since then, many others — from Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne in the ‘60s to Joe Williams and Mel Tormé in the 1990s — have heeded the call of those cool chords to make the song jazzier.

In 2009, Keyshia Cole even reached number 58 on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart with her take on the tune.

More Christmas Tunes?

Finally, if one song is not sufficient fuel for your current Christmas spirit, we have a booster pack for you. Check our the “La Flood Navidad” playlist in our free Radio Floodango music streaming service. (In fact, we’ve just added our 2023 take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to be its lead-off track.)

For that yuletide playlist, we’ve culled bits of audio recorded over the past dozen years by The Flood as well as by a half dozen Flood friends. Guest artists include Ritch Collins, Ron Sowell, Jim Rumbaugh, Karen Combs, Mike Smith and Randy Brown.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas to us every one!

The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
Each week The 1937 Flood, West Virginia's most eclectic string band, offers a free tune from a recent rehearsal, show or jam session. Music styles range from blues and jazz to folk, hokum, ballad and old-time. All the podcasts, dating back to 2008, are archived on our website; you and use the archive for free at: