“Do You Hear What I Hear? sounds as if it came from the 19th or early 20th Century. So, I was surprised to discover the song was written in October 1962.
The song was written as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis, by a married couple, Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker.
“I had thought I’d never write a Christmas song,” Regeny recalled. “Christmas had become so commercial.”
“In the studio, the producer was listening to the radio to see if we had been obliterated,” Regney once explained. “En route to my home, I saw two mothers with their babies in strollers. The little angels were looking at each other and smiling.” This inspired the first line of the song: “Said the night wind to the little lamb … ”
The couple wrote many songs together such as Rain Rain Go Away. Usually Shayne would write the lyrics to the song and Regney the music. However, this was reversed in Do You Hear What I Hear?
“Regney was inspired to write the lyrics “Said the night wind to the little lamb, ‘Do you see what I see?'” and “Pray for peace, people everywhere” after watching babies being pushed in strollers on the sidewalks of New York City. Shayne stated in an interview years later that neither could personally perform the entire song at the time they wrote it because of the emotions surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Our little song broke us up. You must realize there was a threat of nuclear war at the time.”
The song was released recorded by the Harry Simeone Chorale and released shortly after Thanksgiving in 1962. The group had also made The Little Drummer Boy popular.
Bing Crosby recorded the song for his album I Wish You a Merry Christmas in 1963. Ironically, he recorded the song on November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. His version made the song a worldwide hit.
While the couple’s marriage eventually ended, they remained good friends, according to their daughter. Regney died in 2002 and baker in 2008.
Over 100 versions of “Do You Hear What I Hear” has been recorded from Perry Como to Gladys Knight to Vanessa Williams to Destiny’s Child.
“I am amazed that people can think they know the song and not know it is a prayer for peace,” Noel Regney once told an interviewer. “But we are so bombarded by sounds and our attention spans are so short.”
Even today that call and longing for peace continues to call out.