How the Little Drummer Boy Christmas Carol Came to Be

Learn the origins of this famous song

Little drummer boy
Gary D Ercole/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Are you a fan of the song "Little Drummer Boy?" It is one of the most popular holiday songs ever. But just because the song is beloved by people around the world doesn't mean its backstory is very well-known to the public. With this review, learn about the song's origins, including who wrote it and composed it and where the song's roots are. And if you want to learn some of the lyrics, go ahead and memorize the words. They're below.

What Was the Song First Called?

Before it became world famous as the "Little Drummer Boy," the song was originally titled "Carol of the Drums." Why? Because of the repeating line "pa rum pum pum pum," which imitates the sound of a drum.

Who Wrote 'The Little Drummer Boy?'

It's not certain who wrote the song, but the "Little Drummer Boy" is believed to have been written by Katherine K. Davis in 1941. The song lyrics are said to be based on an old Czech carol. But Davis isn't the only person credited with writing the song. According to some reports, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone penned the lyrics to the song. 

Composing Controversy 

Just as it's not entirely certain who deserves songwriting credit for the "Little Drummer Boy," questions surround the composing credits for the song as well. Jack Halloran's daughter, Dawn, stated that her father "did the original choral arrangement and recorded it for Dot Records in 1957." She added that "Dot, unfortunately, didn't put the single out for the 1957 Christmas season, and Simeone succeeded in getting composing credit (along with Henry Onorati and Katherine K. Davis) for a piece he had nothing to do with." — (from a letter to Jerry Osbourne).

Fun Fact

Decades ago claymation was all the rage in television, so a claymation version of the "Little Drummer Boy" was produced by Rankin-Bass for television in 1968 with the voice of Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson narrating. If you're of a certain age, you may have seen this version when it debuted.

"Little Drummer Boy" Lyrics (Excerpt):

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

While the "Little Drummer Boy" is often remembered for the lines that famously imitate a drum, a review of the song's lyrics reveal why it is indeed a Christmas carol. It is about the birth of Jesus Christ and the gifts presented to the newborn king on this momentous day. 

Wrapping Up

Want a music sample of the song? Listen to a clip of the music from the album The Little Drummer Boy

If you'd like a music sheet of the song, check out a website such as for digital downloads.