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February 25, 2005

Harry Simeone, 94, Holiday Chorale Conductor, Dies

New York Times (NY):

Harry M. Simeone, a conductor and arranger whose choral singers helped popularize Christmas evergreens like "The Little Drummer Boy," died on Tuesday at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 94 and lived on the Upper East Side. The death was announced by his family.

Mr. Simeone, who spent a career working for and with headliners like Fred Waring and Bing Crosby, became known on his own in the late 1950's with the Harry Simeone Chorale. Its recordings of Christmas songs sold in the hundreds of thousands and were ubiquitous in homes and public places. The most successful was his group's rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy," adapted from a Czech carol. Translated into English in 1941, it was first recorded in 1957 by the Jack Halloran Singers. According to Songfacts, a professional database, , a disagreement over the release of that record brought the song and the singers to Mr. Simeone for a redo.

Originally titled "Sing We Now of Christmas," the album on the Holiday label that included "Drummer Boy," turned into an instant holiday classic when it appeared in 1958, and made the Top 40 charts in the United States until 1962. Since then "The Little Drummer Boy" has been recorded by artists from Bing Crosby, paired with the rocker David Bowie, to the Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Guards.

Mr. Simeone and his singers had another Christmas hit with "Do You Hear What I Hear?," written by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne in 1962; its lyrics retold the Nativity story through the eyes of young shepherd who had seen the star rise. It appeared on a Holiday album called "Little Drummer Boy/Harry Simeone Chorale." His choruses, chosen for the spiritual qualities of their voices, were assembled for recordings as the occasion arose; there were usually 25 members, 16 boys and 9 girls. He made the recordings in an old theater in Greenwich Village where the aged timbers were acoustically suited to his sound.

Harry Moses Simeone was born in Newark and was drawn to music as a boy listening to stars performing at the Metropolitan Opera. He attended the Juilliard School of Music, planning to become a concert pianist, but left after three years to work at CBS. He was an accompanist and arranger for a singing group, but soon moved into orchestral and choral music. He was an arranger and musical director for Fred Waring and in 1939 moved to Hollywood to work on Bing Crosby movies and other films, also collaborating with the composer Victor Young. He rejoined Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians in 1945 and then was a conductor and choral arranger for "The Firestone Hour" on television from 1952 to 1959. Mr. Simeone's wife, Margaret McCravy Simeone, died in 2001. He is survived by a son, Harry Jr., of Garden City, N.Y.; a daughter, Margaret Stevenson of Rockville Centre, N.Y.; and four grandchildren.

Posted by acapnews at February 25, 2005 12:25 AM