In 1941, “The Little Drummer Boy” was born. Written by composer and teacher Katherine Kennicott Davis, the song, about a poor young boy who had nothing to offer the newborn baby Jesus but a song on his drum, was first recorded by the Trapp Family Singers in 1951 and became a perennial holiday favorite after it was popularized by the Harry Simeone Chorale in 1958.
Since that time, “The Little Drummer Boy” has been covered by hundreds of artists—everyone from Bad Religion to the Brady Bunch— and remains one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time. Here are some of the best covers of “The Little Drummer Boy.”
5. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix died in 1970, but he left behind a surprising Christmas gift for his fans. The year before his death, Hendrix recorded a medley of Christmas tunes, including a cover of the “The Little Drummer Boy” during rehearsals for a 1969 concert at the Fillmore East. The song was later included on the late guitar legend’s 1999 holiday EP, “Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.”
4. Justin Bieber feat. Busta Rhymes
During the height of his reign as a teen idol, Justin Bieber cashed in on fans’ Christmas spirit with the album “Under the Mistletoe.” The 2011 album featured JB and his famous friends covering a number of holiday classics, with a few new songs thrown in. But Justin’s “Little Drummer Boy” duet with rapper Busta Rhymes made everyone a Belieber.
3. Whitney Houston feat. Bobbi Kristina Brown
In 2003, Whitney Houston’s sixth studio album boasted a gorgeous rendition of the Christmas classic. The track from the “One Wish: The Holiday Album” featured a rare duet with Whitney’s then-10-year old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown. After Whitney Houston performed he version of “The Little Drummer Boy” on “The Tonight Show,” late night host Jay Leno called it the “most beautiful” version of the song he’d ever heard, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
2. Bob Seger
In 1987, the charity album, “A Very Special Christmas,” was released to benefit the Special Olympics. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band recorded a memorable version of “The Little Drummer Boy” for the charity compilation. But in a non-secular twist, Seger’s version of the song omitted all names and religious references, including that of the Virgin Mary.
1. Bing Crosby and David Bowie
Bing Crosby’s final TV Christmas special featured the “Little Drummer Boy” cover by which all others are measured. Shortly before his death in 1977, Crosby was joined by rock superstar David Bowie for one of the most surprising duets of all time. The crooner’s 1977 TV special, “Bing Crosby's Merrie Old Christmas,” featured the music legends as they teamed up for a duet of "The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.” The holiday special aired on CBS one month after Bing Crosby’s death in 1977.