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Bing Crosby, David Bowie’s ‘Little Drummer Boy’ duet was a Christmas miracle that almost didn’t happen

Bing Crosby died in 1977 at age 74 shortly after he recorded his televised duet, “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" with Ziggy Stardust icon David Bowie.

Bing Crosby’s son lost his father when he was 19 years old, but he still hears his voice every year at any Christmas party he attends.

The crooner, who remains a holiday staple with songs like "White Christmas" and "Little Drummer Boy," died in 1977 at age 74. This year, Crosby’s estate and Primary Wave Music have teamed up to release "Bing Crosby’s Christmas Gems," a 14-track album that features a collection of holiday classics and rare recordings from the star’s archives.

"I’m very excited – the whole family’s excited," Harry Crosby told Fox News Digital. "I can’t believe we’re coming up close to 50 years since dad passed… We wanted to share a part of dad during Christmas, and also share a part of him that many people may not know about."


"Our family had a great amount of input into this [album]," the 65-year-old shared. "We haven’t heard some of these songs in a very long time. Some of these have been dormant for decades. It’s our way of telling a special story about our dad."

A younger generation may remember Crosby best from his 1977 duet with David Bowie for "Little Drummer Boy" – a collaboration that almost didn’t happen. The television special was recorded shortly before Crosby’s death.

When producers of Crosby’s Christmas TV special asked Bowie to sing "Little Drummer Boy," he refused, the Washington Post reported.

"I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?" Bowie was quoted as saying.

The show’s supervisors panicked as the special was aimed at a younger audience.

According to the outlet, just hours before Bowie was supposed to go in front of cameras, a team of composers and writers frantically reworked the song. New lyrics and an additional melody were. Bowie, then 30, liked it. According to reports, Bowie also agreed to the duet because his mother was a big fan of Crosby’s.

The making of "Little Drummer Boy" was previously chronicled in a PBS special.


As for Crosby, he was up for the challenge.

"He had great respect for Bowie," said Harry. "I can’t say he was deeply involved with David Bowie’s music any more than the Rolling Stones or Grateful Dead, but it was a time when there was a dramatic change in the music world. And David Bowie was very much an instrument of that change. I loved his music and I think dad respected his music and where he came from. The two, who had never met, got together around this piano and did 'Little Drummer Boy’ in one take. It was smooth as silk."

Bowie and his then-wife Angie showed up to the studio in full makeup and bright red hair, reported.

"The doors opened and David walked in with his wife," Crosby's daughter Mary recalled, as quoted by the outlet. "They were both wearing full-length mink coats, they had matching full makeup and their hair was bright red. We were thinking, `Oh my God.’"

"They sat at the piano and David was a little nervous," she continued. "Dad realized David was this amazing musician, and David realized dad was an amazing musician. You could see them both collectively relax and then magic was made."

"It almost didn’t happen," Crosby’s son Nathaniel told The Associated Press. "I think the producers told him to take the lipstick off and take the earring out."

The song, "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" is included in "Christmas Gems."

"I was there on the set, and it was just seamless," Harry recalled. "They had great respect for one another and there’s no doubt that their respect for each other only grew after that recording. They came together in such an organic and natural way to produce a timeless piece."

The holidays had a special meaning for Crosby. He first performed "White Christmas," written by composer Irving Berlin, on Christmas Day in 1941, reported. According to the outlet, Crosby’s October 1942 recording of "White Christmas" received heavy airplay on Armed Forces Radio, as well as commercial radio.

The track became a huge favorite during World War II, and it went on to become one of the most commercially successful singles of all time.

Harry said that, over the years, his father received numerous letters from veterans who found comfort in the song.

"Dad was on the USO tours, so he sang ‘White Christmas’ over there," Harry explained. "He traveled with Bob Hope, Danny Kaye and other folks to sing for our troops. My mother also did the same completely on her own in the Korean War."


"Those were really important times for our family," he shared, "These troops were away from home and dad’s song reminded them that they weren’t forgotten. It had a profound impact on them. In those letters, they spoke about the weight of that song. And it meant so much to dad. He was so thrilled that that song was very well received on the front lines."

Growing up, Christmas started early in the Crosby household – September to be exact.

"We got to cut class for three weeks, so we can do the Christmas shows," Harry chuckled. "That was a mainstay for us. And of course, at home, we would gather around the tree and dad would get us going. Dad loved to do Christmas caroling in the neighborhood. He would get us together, so we could join him. It was startling to some folks who opened their doors and saw Bing Crosby singing with his wife and children on Christmas. But we had a lot of fun, and we were always together as a family – that was very important to dad."

"He loved the theme of Christmas and what it represented," said Harry. "It was very important for him to pass on that message."

And despite his vast music collection, Crosby never got tired of singing "White Christmas," Harry insisted.

"That song had so many meanings for so many people," Harry explained. "Dad understood the power of that song and the impact it had on people, especially those who were away [during the war]. It also put him on a platform that he never expected. It surprised him in a good way. And he loved it. He loved the purity of the song and how it continued to touch lives. It kept him humble."


As a child, Harry didn’t see his father as a sought-after star. He simply saw him as dad.

"He loved to hunt and fish, which I love to do," said Harry. "He loved golf, which I also love to play. My brother Nathaniel, who was very exposed to golf, went pro. My sister loved to sing and act, so she followed in dad’s theatrical footsteps. We were very tight."

"I didn’t see him as this magnificent singer," Harry admitted. "I saw a man who was a father, a man who was very much in love with my mother. They had a great marriage and relationship. We did a lot as a family. I was very blessed to also have the opportunity to work with him, not just during the Christmas season for his shows, but throughout the year. As a young adult, I traveled with him. He became a colleague and a partner. So we had a special relationship… He was proud of his children, proud of his wife and proud of his success."

"I lost him when I was 19," Harry said quietly. "I miss him a ton. One feeling I have is regret that he didn’t see us have children and so on. But I learned so much from him in the 19 years that I had him. I’m still learning from him."

Today, Harry is determined to keep his father’s legacy alive.

"My dad was someone who loved to connect with all people," said Harry. "He believed music was a great connector to all people, all races, all cultures, all religions. Christmas was so much more than a holiday for him. It was an important time to shine a spotlight on family. I think he would want to be remembered as someone who could connect all folks through music. That’s how I remember him."

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