Chorale conductor and arranger known for hit versions of "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Onward Christian Soldiers."
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Harry Simeone Biography

by Jason Ankeny

Holiday chorale conductor and arranger Harry Simeone was responsible for popularizing the yuletide perennial "The Little Drummer Boy." Born in Newark, NJ, on May 9, 1911, Simeone had a childhood affection for the Metropolitan Opera, which inspired him to pursue a career as a concert pianist. After graduating from the Juilliard School of Music, he went to work at CBS Radio as an arranger for popular bandleader Fred Waring, even marrying one of Waring's vocalists, Margaret McCravy. In 1939 Simeone relocated to Hollywood to work as an arranger at Paramount Pictures, collaborating with composer Victor Young on a series of films, including 1944's Bing Crosby vehicle Here Come the Waves as well as several of Crosby's "Road" movies with Bob Hope. Simeone rejoined Waring in 1945, then in 1952 signed on as the conductor and choral arranger for television's The Firestone Hour.

In 1958 Simeone contracted with the 20th Century Fox label to record a Christmas LP. In the midst of assembling the 25-member Harry Simeone Chorale, he also began seeking material to record, discovering "The Little Drummer Boy" via friend Henry Onorati. The song, of unknown origin but presumably based on melodies of both Czech and Spanish descent, was given English-language lyrics by Katherine Davis in 1941 but not recorded until 1957, when it appeared on the Jack Halloran Singers' Onorati-arranged Christmas Is A-Comin'. Simeone loved the song, and made it the first single from his 1958 LP, Sing We Now of Christmas. "The Little Drummer Boy" was immediately hailed as a modern classic, generating some 150 cover versions and global sales topping 25 million. In 1960 Simeone returned to the charts with "Onward Christian Soldiers," and in 1962 returned to Bethlehem with a second enduring seasonal favorite, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" He died in New York City on February 22, 2005.

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