A Song That Captures the Gift of Giving for St. Lawrence
One of the most beloved Christmas songs of all times, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has a direct Laurentian connection, and it gives something back to St. Lawrence University each and every time it plays.
Written by J. Kimball “Kim” Gannon, a 1924 graduate of St. Lawrence, along with Walter Kent and Buck Ram, the song was popularized by Bing Crosby in 1943 and became a top-10 hit that year, joining “White Christmas” to become one of America's most popular homegrown holiday songs, according to the U.S. Library of Congress.
Recorded by the British label Decca Records, the song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II, writing a letter to his family. It touched a tender place in the hearts of Americans while the country was entangled in the throes of war, and it also earned Crosby his fifth gold record. Due to its personal yet widely appealing lyrics, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has lived on as a popular holiday tune for more than seven decades.
Since its debut, more than 250 artists and groups have recorded “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” including Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Tony Bennett, Ann Murray, Amy Grant and Michael Bublé. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) named “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” the 10th most-performed holiday song of the century.
Born in Brooklyn in 1900, Gannon went on to write a number of popular songs during the swing era and penned St. Lawrence’s alma mater, “Alma Mater.”
According to Electronic Services Librarian Paul Doty, Gannon was a member of the Glee Club while attending St. Lawrence as well as the golf team and the Mummers, a student theatrical organization that performed annual Christmas and Commencement plays. “During the time Gannon was here, E. R. Miles was the faculty advisor, they had a ‘barn on the Kappa Delta’ property, and took some of their shows on the road to other North Country communities,” Doty said.
He went on to a successful career as a lyricist, with some 200 popular songs to his name and three Academy Award nominations. Some of his more popular tunes include big-band standards “Moonlight Cocktail,” recorded in 1942 by Glenn Miller; “A Dreamer’s Holiday,” recorded in 1949 by Perry Como; and “I Understand,” recorded at different times by Nat King Cole, Dave Brubeck and Jimmy Dorsey.
When Gannon died in 1974, his will stipulated that St. Lawrence would receive 30 percent of the royalties from his compositions after his wife’s death. His widow, Norma Allen Gannon, St. Lawrence Class of 1925, passed away in 2000.
Since then, the University has received a monthly check (and will for about the next three decades), representing the royalties paid each time one of Gannon’s songs is performed, used in a movie or television program, played on an airplane’s sound system, or streamed online with services such as Spotify, Pandora or Apple Music. The song can be heard played frequently in Looney Tune cartoons and TV shows, including “Gilmore Girls” and “Star Trek: Voyager,” as well as in the films Lethal Weapon and The Polar Express.
Trivia about the royalties benefiting St. Lawrence was even featured in a recent tweet sent out Dec. 15 on Jeopardy!’s Twitter account.
Since September 2000, St. Lawrence has received more than $488,800 in royalties from Gannon’s music, with nearly $30,000 earned this year alone.
The song title inspired the 1998 film I’ll Be Home For Christmas, which followed two made-for-TV movies in 1988 and 1997. All of them featured the familiar tune on their soundtracks.
On Dec. 17, 1965, a NASA transmitter asked astronauts James Lovell and Frank Borman, who were aboard Gemini 7 setting a record number of orbits around earth, if they’d like to hear any music. Their request: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”