Boston University Professor: ‘Jingle Bells’ is Racist

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A Boston University professor who has researched the origins of the popular Christmas carol “Jingle Bells” says she has found proof that the seemingly-innocent song is steeped in racism. 

Professor Kyna Hamill published a paper earlier this year, titled “The Story I Must Tell:  Jingle Bells in the Minstrel Repertoire.”

According to Hamill, the first known performance of James Pierpont’s song took place inside a blackface minstrel hall in Boston in 1857. In an interview with Fox News the professor said that “much research has been done of the problematic history of this 19th century entertainment.”

Hamill initially started researching the origins of “Jingle Bells” — originally dubbed “The One-Horse Open Sleigh” — as two municipalities, Medford, Massachusetts, and Savannah, Georgia, “lay claim to being the song’s city of origin,” and both also boast commemorative plaques. 

“Its origins emerged from the economic needs of a perpetually unsuccessful man, the racial politics of antebellum Boston, the city’s climate, and the intertheatrical repertoire of commercial blackface performers moving between Boston and New York,” Hamill wrote in her paper.

Medford’s plaque claims Pierpont wrote the song inside a tavern there in 1850 but did not copyright the song until 1857, when he was living in Savannah.

According to Hamill, “the racial history of the song has remained hidden behind its local and seasonal affection,” while the song itself originally had zero connection to Christmas.

The song’s lyrics, according to Hamill, connect the tune to “blackface dandy,” a popular minstrel style at the time.

“Words such as ‘thro,’ ‘tho’t,’ and ‘upsot’ suggest a racialized performance that attempted to sound ‘southern’ to a northern audience,” Hamill wrote in her paper. “The legacy of ‘Jingle Bells’ is one where its blackface and racist origins have been subtly and systematically removed from its history.”