Medford, Massachusetts & Savannah, Georgia
Prior to the mid-19th century, holiday music was almost exclusively of a sacred nature, with perhaps a handful of festive English carols thrown in. But in the 1850s, pop Christmas music was born when James Lord Pierpont, a prominent American songwriter, published One Horse Open Sleigh. Later known as Jingle Bells, this simple, catchy tune took the holidays by storm, and was the most popular secular Christmas song until overtaken by White Christmas in the 1940s.
James Pierpont was an American composer whose career spanned much of the 19th century. Born in Boston in 1822, his work came well before the great waves of immigrants began showing up in New York at the turn of the next century. He wrote many songs in his lifetime, the most famous of which by far was Jingle Bells, which earned him an induction into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. He served as a clerk in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. After his death in 1893, he was buried in Savannah, Georgia.
Jingle Bells is one of the most commercially successful songs in American history. Composed at the Simpson Tavern in Medford, Massachussetts in 1850 and published in 1857. It was actually written for the Thanksgiving holiday in honor of the local sleigh races which were a popular winter past-time. For the next century it was one of the best-selling songs in the world, first in sheet music, later in recordings. It also achieved futher fame in the 1960s as the first song broadcast from space, when Gemini Six astronauts played it on a harmonica while in orbit.
While the Simpson Tavern is no longer in existence, its site, and the song Jingle Bells, is commemorated by a plaque. It can be found in Medford, a suburb just northwest of Boston. James Lord Pierpont is buried in the Laurel Grove Cemetery near downtown Savannah. Both locations are open sites. Web: www.savannahvisit.com (official tourism website of Savannah)