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Katherine K. Davis (Composer)

Born: June 25, 1892 - St. Joseph, Missouri, USA
Died: April 20, 1980 - Littleton, Massachusetts, USA

The American composer, lyricist, and teacher, Katherine Kennicott Davis, composed her first piece of music, Shadow March, at the age of 15. She graduated from St. Joseph High School in 1910, and studied music at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. In 1914 she won the Billings Prize. After graduation she continued at Wellesley as an assistant in the Music Department, teaching music theory and piano. At the same time she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. She also studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris.

For most of her life Katherine Davis taught music at the Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts and at the Shady Hill School for Girls in Philadelphia.

Katherine Davis became a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1941, and was granted an honorary doctorate from Stetson University, in DeLand, Florida. Katherine K. Davis continued writing music until she became ill in the winter of 1979-1980. She died on April 20, 1980, at the age of 87, in Littleton, Massachusetts. She left all of the royalties and proceeds from her compositions, which include operas, choruses, children's operettas, cantatas, piano and organ pieces, and songs, to Wellesley College's Music Department. These funds are used to support musical instrument instruction.


Katherine Davis produced over 800 (or 600) compositions, sacred and secular, and her work was published by more than 15 companies. She is remembered today for one song: the enduring Christmas standard The Little Drummer Boy (originally published in 1941 as The Carol of the Drum). She also composed songs, seven operas to her own texts, carols, choruses and sacred cantatas for children. She was actively involved in The Concord Series, multiple-volume set of music and books for educational purposes. Many of the musical volumes were compiled, arranged, and edited by Davis with Archibald T. Davison, and they were published by E.C. Schirmer in Boston.

The bulk of her output consists of practical works for girls' choruses and The Little Drummer Boy, originally entitled The Carol of the Drum, started out as such a piece. Davis claimed it came to her one afternoon while she was trying to take a nap. The song was recorded twice (once by the Trapp Family Singers) before the 1958 version with the Harry Simeone Chorale. the recording sailed to the top of the Billboard charts and Simeone insisted on a writer's royalty for his arrangement of the song. Since then it has been covered by innumerable artists, perhaps most famously as a 1977 duet by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. It was also adapted into a Rankin-Bass animated special (1968) which aired on NBC for many years. Arrangers Harry Simeone and Henry Onorati are often given co-author credit but this has been widely disputed, as have assertions that Davis borrowed the melody from an old Czech tune. In the end she seemed rather annoyed by her only hit, saying it had been "done to death on radio and TV". Another famous hymn by Katherine Davis is the Thanksgiving hymn Let All Things Now Living which uses the melody of the traditional Welsh folk song The Ash Grove.

Musical Compositions

Large works:
Children of Bethlehem, Christmas cantata for children's voices (1973, Broadman Press)
The Drummer, Christmas play with music for soloists, mixed chorus (SATB), organ or piano and handbells (1966, Mills Music)
This is Noel, carol cantata for SATB voice, SB solos, optional oboe, piano or organ (1935, Remick Music)
The Unmusical Impresario, musical comedy in one act (1956, G. Schirmer)
Who is Jesus?, Easter cantata for children's voices (1974, Broadman Press)

Sacred songs for voice and piano or organ:
Be Ye Kind, One to Another (Ephesians 4: 32, 31) (1948, Galaxy Music)
Bless the Lord O My Soul (Psalm 103) (1952, Galaxy Music)
Dear Lord and Father (R. D. Row/Carl Fischer)
How Lovely Are Thy Dwellings (Psalm 84 : 1-3) (1952, Galaxy Music)
Raising of Lazarus (John XI: 1,3,4,17,41,42,43,44,25) (1957, Carl Fischer)
Thou Wilt Hear our Prayer (R. D. Row/Carl Fischer)
Treasure in Heaven (R. D. Row/Carl Fisher)
Trust in the Lord (Proverbs 3: 5-6) (1946, Galaxy Music)

Secular songs for voice and piano:
Folk Song Settings, arrangements and English texts by Katherine K. Davis (Galaxy Music)
The Deaf Old Woman (Missouri Folk Song) (1947)
He's Gone Away (North Carolina Folk Song) (1947)
The Soldier (Kentucky Folk Song) (1947)
Bagpipes (Hungarian Folk Tune) (1949)
The Mill Wheel (J'entends le moulin, French Canadian Folk Song) (1949)
The Pitcher (Portuguese Folk Song) (1951)
I Have a Fawn (Thomas Moore) (1966, Galaxy Music)
Nancy Hanks (Rosemary Benét), a work about Nancy Lincoln (1941, Galaxy Music)

Original choral works:
Alleluia, come, good people, text by John Crowley, mixed voices a cappella (1941, Galaxy Music)
The Birds' Noël (Christmas carol), mixed voices and keyboard (1965, Galliard/Galaxy Music)
In the Bleak Midwinter, text by Christina Rossetti, SSA a cappella (1933, E.C. Schirmer)
The Little Drummer Boy (with Harry Simeone and Henry Onorati), SA or SATB chorus and keyboard (1958, Shawnee Press)
Our God is a Rock, mixed voices and keyboard (1949, C.C. Birchard)
Seasonal Anthems for junior choirs (7 original works and 3 arrangements), two-part children's chorus and keyboard (1963, B.F. Wood Music)
Shepherds, Awake!, mixed voices a cappella (1938, Remick Music)
Sing Gloria, text by John Crowley, mixed voices, SA duet, and keyboard (1952, Remick Music)

Original instrumental works:
Hornpipe, piano solo (1956, J. Fischer and Bros.)

The Concord Series:
The Concord piano books, 4 volumes, (1925-1927, Nos. 600-602, 604)
Cinderella, a folk-tune operetta in three acts without spoken dialogue (1933, No. 616)
Songs of freedom, for unison and part singing (with Archibald T. Davison and Frederic W. Kempf) (1942, No. 621)

Arrangements of other composers' works:
Bois épais (aria from Amadis by Jean-Baptiste Lully), voice and piano (1956, Galaxy Music)
Choruses (with Channing Lefebre) in For us a child is born (Uns ist ein Kind geboren) (Johann Kuhnau, attr. J.S. Bach), cantata for SSA voices, SA solo, and keyboard (1951, Galaxy Music)
God is Life (Gott lebet noch by J.S. Bach), voice and piano or organ (1955, Galaxy Music)
Sheep may safely graze (J.S. Bach), mixed voices and piano (1942, Galliard/Galaxy Music)

Other editions and arrangements:
As it fell upon a night (traditional Christmas carol), mixed voices, soprano descant, and piano (1942, Galaxy Music)
Awake, Thou Wintry Earth (17th-century Dutch carol, text by Thomas Blackburn) (1936, E.C. Schirmer)
The Belfry book, for unison and two-part singing (1943, Remick Music)
The Belfry book of Christmas carols, SSA a cappella (1958, Remick Music)
The Bow Street book, folksongs and part-songs for soprano, alto, and baritone (1951, Birchard Music)
Carol of the Drum, Czech carol, SATB chorus (1941, B.F. Wood Music Company)
Early American anthem book, anthem tunes and verses from the Colonial period in new settings (1975, Galaxy Music)
Four Elizabethan madrigals, for string quartet or instrumental ensemble, ed. with Hazel Weems (1962, G. Schirmer)
The Galaxy junior chorus book, two-part folksongs (1945, Galaxy Music)
The Green Hill, junior choir and duet book (soprano and alto) (1938, E.C. Schirmer)
The Green Hill, three-part sacred music for women's voices (S.S.A.) (1940, E.C. Schirmer)
Let all mortal flesh keep silence (French carol), SAB chorus and piano (1941, B.F. Wood Music)
Let All Things Now Living, Welsh carol, text by John Crowley, SATB chorus with descant (1939, E.C. Schirmer)
O God, our help in ages past (St. Anne hymn tune, text by Isaac Watts), mixed voices and keyboard (1941, Boston Music)
Prayer of Thanksgiving (Netherlands folk song), mixed voices a cappella (1936, E.C. Schirmer)
Sing Unto the Lord, twenty sacred solos for medium voice and piano or organ, with Nancy Loring (1948, Carl Fisher)
Thou who wasGod (hymn from the Genevan psalter), SSA and keyboard (1960, Galaxy Music)

Source: Find a Grave Memorial Website (Author: Bobb Edwards, April 29, 2003)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (June 2013)

Katherine K. Davis: Short Biography | Piano Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Katherine Davis (Find a Grave Memorial)

Katherine Kennicott Davis (Wikipedia)


The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. The ASCAP Biographical Dictionary (Fourth ed.) (New York, New York: ASCAP, 1980)
Harrison Charles Boughton: Katherine K. Davis: life and work. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Thesis (University of Missouri, 1970; reprint by University Microfilms)
A.L. Flanagan: "Katherine K. Davis, 1892-1980", The American Organist: 31 (Aug 14, 1980)
C. Livingston: "The Hymns of Katherine K. Davis", The Hymn 43 (1): 28–33 (1983)

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