Despite its upbeat lyrics and melody, the story behind this hugely popular song is anything but joyful.
In a particularly cold and long winter during the early 1930’s, a young man named Richard Smith who had been suffering from the widespread and devastating disease of tuberculosis found himself in a sanitarium in Scranton, Pennsylvania recovering from yet another bout of the deadly infection. Days were long and spent in the comfort of his room, daydreaming about a normal and healthy life that would enable him to play outside in the snow like the children he was observing from his window.Watching others enjoy life was his life.
This innocent scene inspired the young man to write a beautiful poem, invoking the carefree fun of a day in the snow. Smith even worked a bit of local flavor into his poem when he mentioned “Parson Brown” – a reference to parsons, or independent priests of the Protestant faith who were not associated with any specific parishes or churches. Back in those days, they often traveled through the country performing interdenominational services and ceremonies when nobody else was available to do so. (An historical fact I wondered about.)
Happy with the result, Smith showed the lyrics to his friend and musician Felix Bernard in 1934. Touched by his sick friend’s poem which clearly expressed his desire to flee the limitations his illness had put upon him, Bernard immediately set to work at composing a melody to go along with the words. Sadly, Smith never really saw the fruits of his work as he died, ravaged by the disease at the young age of 34, a year after Bernard wrote the unforgettable music to Smith’s poem.
Felix Bernard, however enjoyed much fame in the years following what would be the first of countless recordings. Born Felix William Bernhardt in 1897 in New York City, he was a child prodigy playing the piano and after completing his musical education earned a living by composing pieces for various vaudeville establishments as well as accompanying orchestras on the piano. Eventually, he founded his own band. He died in 1944.
Sleigh bells and a snowman, featured with romantic lyrics, promise a day of fun. In 1943, Guy Lombardo recorded this song that continues to make us smile and sing with joy.
Hope you enjoy Michael Buble sing “Winter Wonderland.”