Harry Moses Simeone (May 9, 1911, Newark, New Jersey - February 22, 2005, New York City, United States) was a distinguished music arranger, conductor and composer, best known for arranging the famous Christmas song "The Little Drummer Boy", for which he received co-writing credit.
Initiated by his childhood passion for the Metropolitan Opera, Simeone sought a career as a concert pianist and eventually attended the Juilliard School of Music for three years before leaving to begin work at CBS as an arranger for bandleader Fred Waring. After garnering vocal and music arrangement credits for the 1938 RKO motion picture Radio City Revels, Simeone relocated to Hollywood with his wife Margaret McCravy, who was Benny Goodman's first singer using the stage name Margaret McCrae, and later a Fred Waring vocalist. Once there, he had various music production jobs for several Paramount films from 1939 to 1946, including some that starred Bing Crosby. During 1948, Simeone joined NBC's "The Swift Show" as the program's orchestra leader, and during 1952, he joined NBC's The Firestone Hour as conductor and choral arranger.
When 20th Century Fox Records contracted Simeone to make a Christmas album during 1958, he assembled the Harry Simeone Chorale and searched for recording material. After being introduced to an obscure song by friend and credited song co-author Henry Onorati titled "Carol of the Drum", Simeone recorded the tune as "The Little Drummer Boy" for his album Sing We Now of Christmas. He received co-writing credit for the album, although he did not actually compose the song. The "Little Drummer Boy" single quickly became extremely popular and scored on the U.S. music charts from 1958 to 1962. The Simeone Chorale had another Christmas success during 1962, with their rendition of the then-new song "Do You Hear What I Hear?".
A group known as the Harry Simeone Songsters, whose style was similar to that of the Ray Conniff Singers, produced a baseball-oriented song during 1960 called "It's a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame". The song is on one of the Baseball's Greatest Hits CDs and is still played at major league baseball parks.
On May 22, 2000, Harry and Margaret McCravy Simeone officially established the Harry and Margaret Simeone Music Scholarship at Yale University by bestowing a gift of US$1 million.
The story is somewhat similar to an 12th century legend retold by Anatole France as Le Jongleur de Notre Dame (French: Our Lady's Juggler), which was adapted into an opera in 1902 by Jules Massenet. In the French legend, however, a juggler juggles before the statue of the Virgin Mary, and the statue, according to which version of the legend one reads, either smiles at him or throws him a rose (or both, as in the 1984 television film, The Juggler of Notre Dame.)
The song, originally titled "Carol of the Drum", was written in 1941 by pianist Katherine K. Davis based on a traditional Czech carol.
In 1957, the hitherto obscure song was re-arranged by Henry Onorati for a recording by the Jack Halloran Singers on Dot Records, but this version was not released in time for Christmas. The following year, 20th Century Fox Records contracted Onorati's friend Harry Simeone to make a Christmas album. As Simeone was looking for material, Onorati introduced him to the "Carol of the Drum". Simeone re-arranged the song, retitled it "The Little Drummer Boy," and recorded it with the Harry Simeone Chorale on the album Sing We Now of Christmas. The song was jointly credited to Simeone and Onorati, even though they had only arranged it.
The album and the song were an enormous success, with the single scoring on the U.S. music charts from 1958 to 1962. In 1963, the album was reissued under the title The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival in order to boost sales even higher by capitalizing on the single's popularity. The following year, the album was released in stereo. In the 1980s, The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival was released on CD by Casablanca Records.
Harry Simeone, who in 1964 had signed with Kapp Records, recorded a new version of "The Little Drummer Boy" in 1965 for his album O' Bambino - The Little Drummer Boy.
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