DATE December 22, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
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Interview: Songwriter Hugh Martin discusses song "Have Yourself
a Merry Little Christmas"
TERRY GROSS, host:
As I mentioned at the start of the concert, I particularly love the song "Have
Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." It was written by Hugh Martin, and in a
moment, I'll talk with him. He wrote it for Judy Garland to sing in the 1944
movie, "Meet Me in St. Louis."
(Soundbite from "Meet Me in St. Louis")
Ms. JUDY GARLAND: (Singing) "Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let
your heart by light. Next year all our troubles will be out of sight."
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's not the only great song from "Meet Me in St. Louis." Hugh
Martin and his late songwriting partner Ralph Blaine wrote "The Trolley Song"
and "The Boy Next Door" for that film. The move was adapted for Broadway in
1989, and a revival is currently running off-Broadway. Martin and Blaine were
on our show in '89. This year I really wanted to say hello to Hugh Martin and
thank him again for writing his Christmas song. He's 92 now.
Hugh Martin, merry Christmas and welcome back to FRESH AIR.
I think about you all the time around Christmas because I hear your song "Have
Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" all the time. What's it like for you at
Christmas when your song is all over?
Mr. HUGH MARTIN: Well, I just received a little demo from my publisher with
about 11 new versions of "Have Yourself." And I tell you, it really had an
emotional impact on me. It made me feel so connected with a generation that's
not my generation. I really was moved to tears by it.
GROSS: What are some of your like all-time favorite versions of the song?
Mr. MARTIN: Well, my all-time favorite versions are from the olden days. It
was Judy Garland, of course, always tops with me. And Mel Torme, who wrote a
beautiful new verse for it, was really out of this world. And Frank Sinatra,
you can't beat "Mr. Blue Eyes."
GROSS: And the strangest versions you've ever heard?
Mr. MARTIN: The strangest version was by a group called Twisted Sister.
Have you ever heard of them?
GROSS: Oh, yes. Uh-huh, I don't think I know their version of "Have Yourself
a Merry Little Christmas," though.
Mr. MARTIN: That was really weird. They sang it.
GROSS: I think, as we speak, our producers are looking for a copy of that.
And by the time this is over, I bet we'll have it.
Mr. MARTIN: Oh, another beautiful one is--have you heard of this group
called Celtic Woman?
GROSS: No. No, I haven't.
Mr. MARTIN: Well, they are a bunch of Irish girls with beautiful voices,
very high. And they are beautiful.
GROSS: Now, you once told a story on our show about how you and your late
partner Ralph Blaine wrote "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Can I ask
you to tell it again?
Mr. MARTIN: Well, first of all, I feel rather self-serving admitting this,
but Ralph didn't really write it, honey. We wrote our songs separately, so
its words and music by me.
GROSS: Oh, well, good. So now you're really able to tell the complete story
of how you wrote it.
Mr. MARTIN: I can really tell the complete story.
Ralph was working in one room, and I was working in another on "Meet Me in St.
Louis," and I played the first 16 bars of "Have Yourself a Merry Little
Christmas" over and over and over, and got stuck. I could not get--I couldn't
find a bridge for it. And so I just put it aside and decided not to work on
it. And Ralph, who had heard it through the wall, came to me the next day and
said, `Whatever happened to that little madrigal-sounding melody that you were
playing?' And I said, `Well, I couldn't make it work, Ralph, and so I
discarded it.' And he said, `Well, you find it and finish it because I have a
good feeling about it.' And so we did find it and I did finish it, but the
original version was so lugubrious that Judy Garland refused to sing it. She
said, `If I sing that, little Margaret will cry and they'll think I'm a
monster.' So I was young then and kind of arrogant, and I said, `Well, I'm
sorry you don't like it, Judy, but that's the way it is, and I don't really
want to write a new lyric.' But Tom Drake, who played the boy next door, took
me aside and said, `Hugh, you've got to finish it. It's really a great song
potentially, and I think you'll be sorry if you don't do it.' So I went home
and I wrote the version that's in the movie.
GROSS: Now I should explain that in the 1944 movie musical, "Meet Me in St.
Louis," when Judy Garland sings this, you know, she and her younger sister are
very--it's Christmastime but she and her younger sister are very unhappy
because their father's job is taking him from St. Louis to New York, and he's
going to move the whole family to New York, and they don't want to go and
leave their friends behind. So the younger sister, played by Margaret
O'Brien, is crying, and Judy Garland tries to comfort her by singing the song.
Now you said that the first version was lugubrious. What made the lyrics
Mr. MARTIN: Well, I'll sing it for you.
(Singing) "Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last. Next
year we may all be living in the past."
GROSS: But you changed that lyric, didn't you?
Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, I did. The one in the movie was--let's see, "Have
yourself a merry little Christmas." Oh, "Until then we all will be together if
the fates allow. Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow." That was
the one that was in the movie. Then I got a phone call from Frank Sinatra
saying, `I'm doing an album called "A Jolly Christmas" and I love your song,
but it's just not very jolly. Do you think you could jolly it up a little bit
for me?' So then I wrote the line about "Hang a shining star upon the highest
bough." And Frank liked that and recorded it. And people, they do--sometimes
they do that line and sometimes they do the "muddle through" line somehow.
GROSS: I like the "muddle through" one.
Mr. MARTIN: I like the "muddle through" one better, too.
GROSS: My guest is songwriter Hugh Martin.
And here's Twisted Sister from their album "A Twisted Christmas." As you'll
hear, they use the line Martin wrote for Sinatra.
(Soundbite of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas")
TWISTED SISTER: (Singing) "Ho, ho, ho. Let's go, ho, ho, ho. Let's go.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light. From now on
our troubles will be out of sight. Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Make the yuletide gay. From now on our troubles will be miles away. Here we
are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore. Faithful friends who are
near to us gather near to us once more. Through the years, we all will be
together if the fates allow. Hang a shiny star above the highest bough. And
have yourself a merry little Christmas now. Ho, ho, ho. Let's go ho, ho, ho.
Let's go ho, ho, ho. Let's go..."
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: We'll talk more with songwriter Hugh Martin after a break. This is
GROSS: My guest is songwriter Hugh Martin, whose best known song is "Have
Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
Let me ask you to share with us your favorite Christmas memory, since we all
have your song playing in our soundtrack of Christmas.
Mr. MARTIN: Well, my favorite Christmas memory was of being six or seven
years old, and my mother decorating the tree. And she was a very artistic
woman, and she did sensational Christmas trees, so it was a real joy every
year when she would decorate it, and it was a very wonderful moment. That was
my favorite Christmas memory.
GROSS: And what's Christmas like now?
Mr. MARTIN: Oh, do I have to say?
GROSS: You don't.
Mr. MARTIN: I'm really upset by Christmas now. I just hate Santa Claus and
the jingle bells and reindeer and the wrapped packages and the holiday push.
I hate all of that. I just loved it when it was, well, all my life ago, 90
GROSS: You liked it when it was less commercial.
Mr. MARTIN: Oh, yes. Didn't you? Well, of course, you're not old enough to
remember when it was so beautiful.
GROSS: Yeah, it was always pretty commercial.
Mr. MARTIN: But I loved it when it was old-fashioned. We didn't even have
electric lights on our tree. We'd have candles.
GROSS: That's considered very dangerous now.
Mr. MARTIN: Well, I know it is but we didn't have any problem. It worked
GROSS: We're about to hear a version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little
Christmas" that you recorded a year ago...
Mr. MARTIN: That's right.
GROSS: ...and was released earlier this year in a CD that's called "Hugh
Mr. MARTIN: Right.
GROSS: And this features recordings that you've made, you know, throughput
your career, particularly like in the, I guess, in the '40s and '50s.
Mr. MARTIN: That's right.
GROSS: But it has this new recording from a year ago. You made this
recording when you were 90.
Mr. MARTIN: I was 90 years old. I don't know how I got through it.
GROSS: And you're at the piano playing and singing. It's quite beautiful.
Do you want to say anything about making this recording before we hear it?
Mr. MARTIN: Well, I just want to say, Terry, that I never would have
continued singing at all if it hadn't been for you, because you did an
interview with Ralph and me in 1989, I think it was, when "Meet Me in St.
Louis" opened on Broadway. And you played a little recording of me singing
"The Trolly Song." And I was just about to stop singing because I wasn't
getting all that much encouragement. But when at the end of the cut you said,
`Ooh, I like your singing. I like it a lot.' And that thrilled me so that I
kept on singing.
GROSS: Well, it thrills me to hear you say that.
Mr. MARTIN: I mean it.
GROSS: And I still really like your singing.
Mr. MARTIN: Thank you.
GROSS: And I want to wish you a merry Christmas, and I want to thank you for
writing such a great Christmas song. Some of those Christmas songs tend to
Mr. MARTIN: Well, God really blessed me.
GROSS: ...and your song is so enduring. It's just one of those beautiful and
moving, I think, of all the Christmas songs. So thank you so much and thank
you for talking with us again.
Mr. MARTIN: Oh, thank you deeply for saying that.
GROSS: And merry Christmas.
Mr. MARTIN: Merry Christmas, Terry.
GROSS: And happy New Year, and I hope it's a very healthy one for you.
Mr. MARTIN: I think it will be. Bye-bye.
(Soundbite from "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas")
Mr. MARTIN: (Singing) "Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of
yore. Faithful friends who were dear to us gather near to us once more. So
have yourself a merry little Christmas now."
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Hugh Martin from his CD "Hugh Sings Martin." Martin spoke to us from
(Soundbite of instrumental of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas")
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. All of us at FRESH AIR wish you a happy holidays.
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