Katherine Kennicott Davis, composer of “The Little Drummer Boy” From St. Joseph MO – St. Joseph Mo and Life in the Midwest


Katherine Kennicott Davis (June 25, 1892 – April 20, 1980) was an American composer, pianist, arranger, and teacher whose best known composition is the Christmas carol “Carol of the Drum,” later known as “The Little Drummer Boy” .

life and career

Davis was born on June 25, 1892 in St. Joseph, Missouri. At the age of 15 she composed her first piece of music, “Shadow March”. In 1910 she graduated from St. Joseph High School and studied music at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. In 1914 she won the college’s Billings Prize. After graduating, she continued to work as an assistant in the music department at Wellesley, teaching music theory and piano. At the same time, she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Davis also studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. She taught music at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts and Shady Hill School for Girls in Philadelphia.

She became a member of ASCAP in 1941 and received an honorary doctorate from Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. Katherine K. Davis continued to write music until she fell ill in the winter of 1979–1980. She died on April 20, 1980 at the age of 87 in Littleton, Massachusetts. She bequeathed all royalties and proceeds from her compositions, including operas, choruses, children’s operettas, cantatas, piano and organ pieces, and songs, to the Music Department of Wellesley College. These funds serve to promote the performance of students.


Many of her more than 600 compositions were written for her school’s choirs. She was actively involved in the Concord Series, a multi-volume collection of music and books for educational purposes. Many of the volumes of music were compiled, arranged, and edited by Davis with Archibald T. Davison and published by E.C. Schirmer in Boston.

She wrote The Little Drummer Boy (originally titled The Carol of the Drum) in 1941. It became famous when it was recorded by the Harry Simeone Chorale in 1958: the recording topped the Billboard charts and Simeone insisted a royalty from an author for his arrangement of the song.

Another famous hymn by Katherine Davis is the Thanksgiving hymn “Let All Things Now Living”, which uses the melody of the traditional Welsh folk song The Ash Grove.

musical compositions

great works

  • Children of Bethlehem, Christmas Cantata for Children’s Voices, 1973, Broadman Press
  • The Drummer, Christmas play with music for soloists, mixed choir (SATB), organ or piano and handbells, 1966, Mills Music
  • This is Noel, Christmas carol cantata for SATB vocals, SB solo, choice of oboe, piano or organ, 1935, Remick Music
  • The unmusical impresario, musical comedy in one act, 1956, G. Schirmer
  • Who is Jesus?, Easter Cantata for Children’s Voices, 1974, Broadman Press

Sacred Songs for Voice and Piano or Organ

  • Be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32, 31) (1948) Galaxy Music
  • Bless the Lord my soul (Psalm 103), 1952, Galaxy Music
  • Dear Sir and Father, RD Row/Carl Fischer
  • How beautiful are thy mansions (Psalm 84:1–3), 1952, Galaxy Music
  • Raising of Lazarus (John XI: 1,3,4,17,41,42,43,44,25), 1957, Carl Fischer
  • You will hear our prayer RD Row/Carl Fischer
  • Treasure in Heaven, RD Row/Carl Fisher
  • Trust in the Lord (Proverbs 3:5–6), 1946, Galaxy Music

Secular songs for voice and piano

  • Folk settings, arrangements and English lyrics by Katherine K. Davis, Galaxy Music
  1. The Deaf Old Woman (Missouri Folk Song), 1947
  2. He’s Gone (North Carolina Folk Song), 1947
  3. The Soldier (Kentucky Folk Song), 1947
  4. Bagpipes (Hungarian folk song), 1949
  5. The Mill Wheel (J’entends le moulin, French-Canadian folk song), 1949
  6. The Pitcher (Portuguese folk song), 1951
  • I Have a Fawn (Thomas Moore), 1966, Galaxy Music
  • Nancy Hanks (Rosemary Benét), a work about Nancy Lincoln, 1941, Galaxy Music

Original choral works

  • Hallelujah come good people, lyrics by John Crowley, mixed voices a cappella, 1941, Galaxy Music
  • The Birds’ Noël (Christmas carol), mixed voices and keyboard, 1965, Galliard/Galaxy Music
  • In the Bleak Midwinter, text by Christina Rossetti, SSA a cappella, 1933, EC Schirmer
  • The Little Drummer Boy (with Harry Simeone and Henry Onorati), SA or SATB Choir and Keyboards, 1958, Shawnee Press
  • Our God is a Rock, mixed vocals and keyboards, 1949, CC Birchard
  • Seasonal Hymns for Young Choirs (7 original works and 3 arrangements), two-part children’s choir and keyboard, 1963, BF Wood Music
  • Shepherds, Awake!, mixed voices a cappella, 1938, Remick Music
  • Sing Gloria, lyrics by John Crowley, mixed voices, SA duet and keyboards, 1952, Remick Music

Original instrumental works

  • Hornpipe, piano solo, 1956, J. Fischer and Bros.

The Concord series

  • The Concord Piano Books, 4 vols., 1925–1927, #600–602, 604
  • Cinderella, a folk operetta in three acts without spoken dialogue, 1933, no. 616
  • Songs of Freedom, for unison and solo (with Archibald T. Davison and Frederic W. Kempf), 1942, No. 621

Arrangements of works by other composers

  • Thick Wood (Aria from Amadis by Jean-Baptiste Lully), voice and piano, 1956, Galaxy Music
  • Choirs (with Channing Lefebre) in Uns ist ein Kindgeburt (Johann Kuhnau, attr. JS Bach), cantata for SSA voices, SA solo and keyboard, 1951, Galaxy Music
  • Gott ist Leben (God is still alive by JS Bach), voice and piano or organ, 1955, Galaxy Music
  • Sheep may secure graze (JS Bach), mixed voices and piano, 1942, Galliard/Galaxy Music

Other editions and edits

  • As it fall on a night (traditional Christmas carol), mixed vocals, soprano decanter and piano, 1942, Galaxy Music
  • Awake, Thou Wintertry Earth (17th-century Dutch carol, lyrics by Thomas Blackburn), 1936, EC Schirmer
  • The Belfry Book, for unison and two-part voice, 1943, Remick Music
  • The Belfry Book of Christmas Carols, SSA a cappella, 1958, Remick Music
  • The Bow Street Book, Folk Songs and Partial Songs for Soprano, Alto and Baritone, 1951, Birchard Music
  • Carol of the Drum, Czech Christmas Carol, SATB Choir, 1941, BF Wood Music Company
  • Early American Hymn Book, Colonial Era Hymn Melodies and Verses in New Settings, 1975, Galaxy Music
  • Four Elizabethan Madrigals, for string quartet or instrumental ensemble, ed. with Hazel Weems, 1962, G. Schirmer
  • The Galaxy Junior Chorus Book, folk songs in two parts, 1945, Galaxy Music
  • The Green Hill, book for junior choir and duet (soprano and alto), 1938, EC Schirmer
  • The Green Hill, three-part sacred music for female voices (SSA), 1940, EC Schirmer
  • Let All Mortals Keep Silence (French Christmas Carol), SAB Choir and Piano, 1941, BF Wood Music
  • Let All Things Now Living, Welsh Christmas carol, lyrics by John Crowley, SATB choir with soprano, 1939, EC Schirmer
  • O God, our help in ages past (St. Anne’s hymn melody, Isaac Watts lyrics), mixed voices and keyboards, 1941, Boston Music
  • Prayer of Thanksgiving (Dutch folk song), mixed voices a cappella, 1936, EC Schirmer
  • Sing Unto the Lord, twenty sacred solos for medium voice and piano or organ, with Nancy Loring, 1948, Carl Fisher
  • Thou who was God (hymn from the Geneva Psalter), SSA and keyboard, 1960, Galaxy Music

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