Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Old Hollywood Songs: Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)



Today's song is Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) performed by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas (1954).

Composer Irving Berlin's lovely song Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) is often associated with the Christmas season, but it is a wonderful Thanksgiving tune that came out of a personal experience in Berlin's life.

By the early 1950's, Berlin was one of the most successful entertainers in America with a string of best-selling songs and hit movies and Broadway musicals. All of that success meant a lot of stress, which Berlin recounted in a letter to 20th Century Fox executive Joseph Schenck that is published in The Irving Berlin Reader. Berlin suffered from insomnia and the lyrics came to him after he complained of a sleepless night to his longsuffering doctor. "After the worst kind of a sleepless night, my doctor came to see me," he wrote to Schenck. "After a lot of self-pity, bellyaching and complaining about my insomnia, he looked at me and said 'speaking of doing something about insomnia, did you ever try counting your blessings?'"

Berlin took his doctor's advice and reported to Schenck that "I've had several nights of good sleep." Out of that experience Berlin wrote Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep). He included the song in White Christmas (1954), which was loosely based on Holiday Inn (1942), another hit Christmas movie that starred Bing Crosby and featured Berlin's songs. In White Christmas, Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) is used to advance the relationship between Crosby and Clooney (clip at the top of the story). Crosby plays a Broadway entertainer who is helping his former Army captain (Dean Jagger) draw a crowd to his Vermont inn with the help of Clooney and her sister (Vera-Ellen).

Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) was an immediate hit with several artists recording versions, including a duet from Crosby and Clooney. The most successful version was by Eddie Fisher (clip below):


Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) was nominated for best original song at the Academy Awards but it lost to "Three Coins in a Fountain." Here's singer Peggy King performing the song during the Oscar ceremony.



Through the years, Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) has become a popular standard, especially associated with the holiday season. Singers like Perry Como, Andy Williams, and Crosby himself trotted out versions for their popular holiday specials. In more recent years, the song has taken on more religious overtones. Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) has been recorded by virtually every Christian contemporary artist from Sandi Patty to Amy Grant, and it is a staple of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Christmas program (clip below).



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