Version Tracker: Everyone from Johnny Cash to Sufjan Stevens has sung “The Little Drummer Boy”

Version Tracker examines how different artists have performed the same song over the years, adapting it to suit their own needs and times.

Maybe it’s the story. Maybe it’s the onomatopoeia. Or maybe it’s just that everyone digs a dude who can pound the skins. Whatever the reason, “The Little Drummer Boy” has become the unlikeliest of Christmas perennials: an overtly religious number with a martial rhythm, and no mention of snow, trees, or jingle bells. It’s the holiday tune that appeals to crooners and rockers alike—the former because of the pretty melody and sustained notes, and the latter because it has the word “drum” in it.

The actual origins of “The Little Drummer Boy” are somewhat tangled. Educator/composer Katherine Kennicott Davis wrote and published the song “The Carol Of The Drum” in 1941, citing it as “freely transcribed” from a traditional Czech folk …

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