Short answer: YES. The song Jingle Bells has a racist history that has been recently brought to my attention. I am responsible for speaking truths, and my students deserve a music teacher who teaches with integrity & who will also advocate for and with them.
Long answer: YES. Jingle bells has a racist history that I am now learning about thanks to many other music teachers and advocates of anit-racist curriculums/ music.
The composer of Jingle Bells, James Pierpont was a supporter of the Confederacy even though his father was an abolitionist pastor. James Peirpont wrote songs for the confederacy during the civil war. (check out the history channel website)
The song was originally titled “One Horse Open Sleigh” and was first printed in September 1857. It was dedicated to John Ordway, a Boston doctor, composer and organizer of a troupe of white men performing in blackface called “Ordway’s Aeolians.” John Ordway and his fellow minstrel musicians performed Jingle bells along with many other songs in black face.
Woof… so ya, it’s cancelled in my book.
Before you jump down my throat I ask you to reflect on three things:
1. This song wasn’t intended to be a “Christmas Song” when it was written. It has no mention of Christmas… Why do we insist on keeping it?
2. Many teachers use this song to teach AB form (myself included). BUT -I honestly can think of TONS of others to teach this concept…
3.Is it even a question about removing this song from your classroom/music repertoire when it was originally written by a racist and it’s first performances were in blackface?
So what am I doing about it? I am not singing it. I am omitting it from my school sing along. I am giving suggestions for other songs like Silver Bells, or Jingle Bell Rock, or The Square Root of Possible from Jingle Jangle!
What can you do? Well, in my opinion, when you know better, you do better. I can’t tell you what to do but I am 100% willing to support other teachers, caregivers, and leaders on this journey of being antiracist.
*EDIT* a dear friend and colleague, Zach Schlaug, brought another article on this topic to my attention. For more reading on the history of Jingle Bells and Minstrel Repertoire "The Story I Must Tell: “Jingle Bells” in the Minstrel Repertoir"
*EDIT 2* I have written a song to use instead of JB called "Jingle Jangle" Please feel free to learn, sing, share or create your own.