The Story Of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” [Updated And Corrected]

Bing Crosby memorably introduced this last of the popular Christmas songs to have a religious theme to most Americans in 1963, on this live broadcast of “The Hollywood Palace.”  It  was written in October of 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, by a married songwriting team that  wondered at the time if it would be the last thing they ever did.

Noel Regney, who wrote the lyrics, was born in France and had studied music at the Strasbourg Conservatory and at the Conservatoire National de Paris. When France was overwhelmed by Hitler’s troops in 1940, he was conscripted into the German army. As a Nazi soldier, he secretly joined the French underground and served as a spy, passing information along to the resistance. Once he led German soldiers into a trap where they were massacred by French fighters who cut them down in a crossfire. He was shot too, but survived.

After that traumatic encounter, Regney deserted and worked with the French underground until the end of the war.

In 1952, Noel Regney moved to Manhattan. He composed music for many early TV shows as well as commercial jingles. He also translated  the 1963 hit “Dominique,” performed by the “The Singing Nun,” into English. [Correction note: the original version of this post gave him the writing credit for the song itself. My mistake; thanks to reader John Montanarifor the correction] Noel Regney married pianist Gloria Shayne,  a pianist and composer herself. She also authored some popular songs recorded by well-known singers in the Sixties, including James Darren’s “Goodbye Cruel World”  and “The Men in My Little Girl’s Life,”  a hit for Mike Douglas, and “Almost There,” one of Andy Williams’ bestselling recordings.

When Noel and Gloria collaborated, she wrote the words and Noel wrote the music. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” was the lone exception. In October of 1962, as the stand-off between the Soviet Union and the United States had the world fearing nuclear war, Regney was asked by a record producer to write a holiday song that he feared might never have a chance to be recorded. The war veteran was inspired to write what was an urgent prayer for peace, and he asked Gloria to write the music to accompany his words. Gloria said later that they couldn’t sing their new creation because it made them both  break down crying.

There have been over close to 200 versions of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” with more recorded every year. Noel Regney’s personal favorite was a recording by Robert Goulet, who  shouted out the line, “Pray for peace, people, everywhere.” But it was Crosby’s version that became the standard, selling over a million copies, and it is my favorite, indeed my favorite recording by Bing.

It was in my Christmas stocking on Christmas morning, 1963.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

 

18 thoughts on “The Story Of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” [Updated And Corrected]

  1. According to Wikipedia, Noel Regney merely wrote the English lyrics to “Dominique,” not the song, which The Singing Nun (Jeanne Deckers) composed herself. You can find Mary Ford (of Les Paul and… fame) doing a countrified rendition of Regney’s English lyric on YouTube. Noel Regney was a frequent customer at a store in Ridgefield, Conn. where I clerked during my high school and college years in the ’70s. At the time, he was playing cocktail piano in a fancy French restaurant in nearby South Salem, NY. I had no idea at the time who he was or of his remarkable life story. Thanks for this, Jack, and for all your excellent, thought-provoking posts.

  2. Sweepings from the dustbin of history….

    The original French of “Dominique” loses much in the translation.

    ” Il ne parle que du bon Dieu
    A l’e poque ou Jean-sans-Terre de’ Angleterre etait Roi
    Dominique, notre Pere, combattit les Albigeois”

    Literally

    He only talks to God
    At the time when John Lackland (Bad king John, the one forced to sign the Magna Carta) was king of England,
    Dominic, our Father, fought the Albigenses.

    The Albigensian crusade, against a heretical sect in southern France, is best known for the massacre at Bezieres.

    Caesarius of Heisterbach wrote:

    ” When they discovered, from the admissions of some of them, that there were Catholics mingled with the heretics they said to the abbot “Sir, what shall we do, for we cannot distinguish between the faithful and the heretics.” The abbot, like the others, was afraid that many, in fear of death, would pretend to be Catholics, and after their departure, would return to their heresy, and is said to have replied “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius – Kill them all for the Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. ii. 19) and so countless number in that town were slain”

    Hence “kill em all and let God sort em out”.

    More is lost because “niquer” in French means to screw, in the vulgar sense. Dominique-nique-nique is thus somewhat risque en Francais. Which might account for its popularity. As a child in England, I had only heard the French version.

    Regarding Noel Regny and conscription – people resident in Alsace and Lorraine were deemed to be Germans. Thus able to be conscripted. French people in general had to volunteer to serve, and then couldn’t get into the Wehrmacht, only the SchutzStaffeln. The SS not the army.

    Little distinction was made post war between the two groups, the Army conscripts and the SS volunteers. Both were regarded in practice as traitors, and even having helped the Armee de L’interieur, the “Resistance” wouldn’t have made any difference. They were persona non grata. Moving to the US would have been most prudent. They made convenient scapegoats for the sins nearly all of the survivors of the Occupation committed, some at gunpoint, some with enthusiasm. An accommodation that was necessary to avoid civil war.

    Another in this situation was Guy Sajer, author of “The Forgotten Soldier”.

    As I tell my son, be original in your mistakes. Learn from history, don’t repeat it.

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