Burl Ives name should sound familiar to you. His voice is heard throughout the 1964 movie “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.” Burl Ives has been singing Have a Holy, Jolly Christmas longer than I have been alive, but I believe I have heard it every Christmas of my life.
I’m amazed that children still flock to their television when “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” airs today. The movie is a timeless Christmas classic.
What about Burl Ives? Who is the man with the rich, full voice behind the narrator of the beloved children’s Christmas special and the Ives’ character, Sam the Snowman?
Burl Ives was an Illinois born singer, songwriter, and actor. Born in 1909, Burl began to learn and collect folk songs and ballads as a youngster. He performed English, Irish, and Scottish ballads from the age of four. Ives recollects a life born to sing. In his personal writings he recalls the simple, yet rich four part harmonies of spiritual songs heard week after week in Church.
Much like a modern day bard Burl Ives wandered roads all over the country learning folk songs from tramps and drifters. Combining what he learned on the road with his spiritual singing Burl Ives created a unique style of storytelling in song, resulting in over 100 albums.
Many of the songs originated by Burl Ives have since been passed from generation to generation as our own folk songs. In addition to Christmas favorites Have a Holly Jolly Christmas and Frosty the Snowman, Ives recorded I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, The Blue Tail Fly, and Old Dan Tucker.
Burl said of his own singing that he came to realize that his singing was best not when he walked on stage to perform in front of an audience, but when he allowed his mind to reach a place of innocence. It must be his innocence that caused Burl Ives to create songs that children and adults would love for generations to come. It is certainly in his state of innocence that we hear him as Sam the Snowman in Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.
Burl Ives appeared in a small number of films, but is most noted for his contribution to American music.
Ives died in 1995. Most of his 86 years were spent sharing the cultural heart and soul of rural America through song. His is a voice to be noted for so much more than the narrator of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, but the Christmas movie is a great way to introduce children and adults to the iconic American folk singer Burl Ives.
This year Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Sam the Snowman (Burl Ives) can be seen on CBS, Wednesday, December 2, 2009, at 8 pm EST.
Burl Ives: American Icon
Burl Ives’ Biography
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, CBS