Christmas Classics PERSON OF THE DAY: Hugh Martin

August 14th, 2013

On this day in 1914, Hugh Martin was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He was a composer for both the Broadway stage and films and is credited for co-writing along with his long-time collaborator, Ralph Blane, the popular holiday classic Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, as well the other songs for the Hollywood musical Meet Me in St. Louis starring Judy Garland. Martin and Blane did indeed collaborate on a number of Broadway musicals for several decades. In his autobiography, however, Martin claimed he was solely responsible for the music and lyrics of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Martin wrote the song’s first draft while vacationing at a Birmingham house his father designed for his mother. That draft was judged too depressing by Judy Garland, her co-star Tom Drake, and Vincente Minnelli, the movie director and future husband of Garland. The dispirited Martin was reluctant to change the lyrics, but then went about the task of revising them to accommodate his initial critics. What resulted was a more upbeat, though wistful, tune that Garland eventually sang in the musical and later as a single for Decca Records. Her sentimental version was known to have caused many a tearful eye, especially among U.S. troops serving in World War II.

Over the years some of the original verse lines of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas were further changed. For Frank Sinatra and his 1957 album A Jolly Christmas, Martin revised the original line “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” to the more familiar and popular phrase “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”  In later years the line “through the years, we all will be together if the Lord allows,” was replaced by the less religious “if the fates allow.”

Hugh Martin died of natural causes on March 11, 2011 at his home in Encinitas, California. At his bedside were his niece Suzanne Hanners, and Elaine Harrison his long-time manager and best friend.

Hugh Martin

Hugh Martin