“The Bells of St. Mary’s“ is a 1917 popular song…..with the music being written by A. Emmett Adams…and the lyrics by Douglas Furber….after a visit to St. Mary’s Church, Southampton, England. It was published by the London company Ascherberg, Hopwood & Crew…..as the song was revived in 1945 in the film of the same name….while being sung by Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman.
Due to the inclusion in the 1945 film of a scene featuring a Christmas pageant….both the film and the song have come to be associated with the Christmas season….although the song has no direct lyrical connection with the holiday…and, indeed, refers to the “red leaves” of autumn in the chorus. The Drifters recorded the song as the B-side of their 1954 “White Christmas” single….and several other artists have included it on Christmas albums….such as Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans in a A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector in 1963….Andy Williams in Merry Christmas in 1965….Aaron Neville in Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas in 1993….and Sheryl Crow in Home for Christmas in 2008.
The song appears in an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus in a skit called “Musical Mice”….as Ken Ewing claims to have trained mice to squeal at the specific pitches necessary to play the song….as he demonstrates with debatable success. The Drifters’ version is featured in the 1990 movie Goodfellas, in the Christmas Eve scene with Henry Hill and family….and the following scene where Stacks (Samuel L. Jackson) is shot dead by Tommy Devito (Joe Pesci). This song is also associated with Saint Mary’s College (Indiana), Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and Saint Mary’s College of California….and a version of this song is the anthem of State University of New York Maritime College….whose first training ship was the USS St. Mary’s.
In this video seen herewith….Johnny Gimble and The Bosque Bandits perform The Bells of St Mary on the Austin City Limits stage in 1978…..as banjo extraordinaire Smokey Montgomey displays his incredible talent on the banjo.