Just that five-word title conjures up those melodious opening bars, scents of pine and hot chocolate mixing by the fire, and the crisp rush of a snow-chilled breeze.
But many have never realized that when Bing Crosby recorded, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” in 1943 his baritone was singing words written by James Kimball “Kim” Gannon a 1934 Albany Law School graduate.
Born in Brooklyn, to a family from Fort Ann (near Lake George), Gannon grew up in New Jersey and vacationed in Ballston Spa during summers. After he graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1924 – where he met his wife Norma and wrote the school’s alma mater – he worked in banking in New York City and for the New York Power and Light Corporation in Greenwich (near Saratoga Springs). However, he intended to become an attorney instead of a songwriter and came to Albany Law in 1930. He passed the New York State Bar in 1934.
According to Albany Law School’s 1933 yearbook, The Verdict, Gannon was known as the “crooning counselor.” He was a broadcaster on WGY – the same station at 810 AM and 103.1 FM today in the Capital Region – from “the smoking room” between law school classes at night under the pseudonym Johnny Albright.
“Give Kim time and he will have all the law set to music,” the yearbook said.
“Writes most of his own songs and probably most of that phony fan mail he shows us,” a Verdict editor wrote next to Gannon’s photo.
According to the Saratogian newspaper, he practiced law for five years in Ballston Spa.
Then in 1939, he published his first song, “For Tonight.” In 1942, Gannon’s “Moonlight Cocktail,” was recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra and was the best-selling record in the United States for 10 weeks. He began writing songs for movies and ended up with dozens of writing credits throughout the 1950s and 60s.
All of those were dwarfed when Crosby recorded Gannon’s words with music by Walter Kent on a 78-rpm single in 1943. At the height of World War II, the song outpaced Crosby’s other holiday classic, “White Christmas,” according to the Library of Congress, and was the most requested song at U.S.O. shows in Europe and the Pacific that year.
The song even went to space in December 1965 when astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell requested the song on their way home from the first U.S. space rendezvous and the longest flight in the U.S. space program at the time.
Now recorded by over 250 artists internationally, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) named “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” the 10th most-performed holiday song of the organization’s century in 2014.
Gannon died at the age of 73 in Lake Worth, Florida, in 1974. His widow, Norma Allen Gannon, died in 2000.