Iowa has produced its share of singers, songwriters, performers, and famous bands. Not all of them have engaged with holiday music, but a few of the state’s big names have written or performed famous Christmas songs.
Enjoy this little walk down Iowa holiday music history.
“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”
by Meredith Willson
“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is easily one of the most famous Christmas songs. It’s been performed by everyone from Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and Johnny Matthis to Harry Connick Jr., Michael Bublé, and Meghan Trainor. Meredith Willson, who comes from Mason City, wrote this song and published it with Plymouth Music in 1951.
Meredith Willson is also famous for writing the Broadway hit, “The Music Man,” which included popular songs like “76 Trombones.” “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” was originally titled “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas,” and also found its way into another Meredith musical, “Here’s Love,” based on the movie “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947).
“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”
by John Rox AKA John Herring
“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is one of the famous one-hit-wonders that has stayed with us since 10-year-old, Oklahoma City native Gayla Peevey recorded the song in 1953. This catchy, novelty Christmas song was written by Winterset, Iowa, native John Rox, born John Herring. Kacey Musgraves and LeAnn Rimes are a couple of the big-name artists who have covered the song over the years.
Rox was not only a songwriter but wrote a musical and a couple of movies, like “A Safe Place” starring Jack Nicholson. Also, he was married to Alice Pearce, the actress who played Gladys Kravitz on “Bewitched.” He died of a heart attack in his 50s, shortly after Gayla Peevey recorded his fun song, which has been on many Christmas music playlists since.
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”
by Eddie Pola and George Wyle
The ever-so-popular “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was not written by Iowans, but it was Iowan Andy Williams who brought the song into pop culture. Eddie Pola and George Wyle wrote this catchy Christmas tune in 1963 while Wyle was the vocal director for “The Andy Williams Show.” Shortly after, Andy Williams recorded the song and released it on his first Christmas album.
As recently as 2020, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts. This year, it made it to No. 9 as of the time of this article. The song is not only a familiar sound each holiday season, but the title is a catchphrase courtesy of its continued popularity, which all started with Andy Williams, who spent his early years in Wall Lake. Over the years, Johnny Mathis, Amy Grant, Garth Brooks, and Harry Connick Jr. are only some of the big names to record and perform the song.
“The Christmas Song”
Written and performed by Weezer
Weezer’s “The Christmas Song” is an original, not the same-titled song that begins with the famous lyrics “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” It’s not a hugely famous song outside of die-hard Weezer fans, but Weezer is famous and their guitarist, Brian Bell, was born in Iowa City. Plus, Weezer wrote “Buddy Holly.” And, Buddy Holly died in Clear Lake in the famous “The Day the Music Died” plane crash. This earns Weezer’s “The Christmas Song” a place on this list.
Weezer recorded and released the song in 2000 on their Christmas album: “The Christmas CD,” also known as “Winter Weezerland.” Although you can find a copy of the CD or download the tune, you won’t be able to hear it live. Weezer no longer performs the song and hasn’t performed it live since April 2001 in Japan.
Song written by Leroy Anderson, lyrics by Mitchell Parish, and performed by TLC
TLC doesn’t want you to chase waterfalls, but it’s definitely OK to go for a sleigh ride. In 2000, as part of “A LaFace Family Christmas” album, Lisa “Left-eye” Lopes of TLC added some spice to the song and lyrics written by Anderson and Parish in 1948 and 1950. “Sleigh Ride” is most definitely among the most famous Christmas songs and one-third of the Grammy-winning R&B group TLC is from Des Moines.
Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins moved to Atlanta, where TLC was formed, when she was 9. However, she was born in Des Moines and spent her early years there. The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, has named “Sleigh Ride” the most popular piece of Christmas music in the US for several years including 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015. It beat out other songs like “The Christmas Song”, “Winter Wonderland”, and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” The TLC version of “Sleigh Ride” was also featured in “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. “
By Jessica Lee
Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. You can contribute to us here. Also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.