The Music Plays On- Burl Ives Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

Donato Cabrera
3 min readDec 19, 2020

Burl Ives’s voice is still part of the American consciousness, but his story has been largely forgotten.

Burl Ives was born in Hunt City, Illinois, in 1909. In 1929, during his junior year at what is now Eastern Illinois University, he decided that he was wasting his time at university and dropped out to become an itinerant musician…and I mean itinerant. Throughout the early 1930’s, Ives traveled the country riding boxcars and earning a living by taking odd jobs and playing folksongs. He certainly had talent because in 1933 he had made his way to New York City and started studying at The Juilliard School. By 1938, he was singing a small part in Rodgers and Hart’s 1938 Broadway smash hit musicals, The Boys from Syracuse.

In 1940 he created what would become an incredibly popular radio show, The Wayfaring Stranger, and started singing with the Almanacs, a folk-singing group which often included Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger. The Almanacs were active in the American Peace Mobilization (APM), a far left organization that initially opposed the American entry into World War II and Franklin Roosevelt’s pro-Allied policies. However, when Nazi Germany invaded Russia in June 1941, the APM reorganized itself into the pro-war American People’s Mobilization and Ives and the Almanacs rerecorded several of their songs to show their support of US entry into the war.

Ives had a string of hits throughout the 1940’s, including the 1947's, I’m Goin’ Down the Road, with the Andrews Sisters,

And an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song for his version of the 17th century English song, Lavender Blue, for the 1948 film, So Dear to My Heart,

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