Katherine K. Davis


Katherine K. Davis was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on June 25, 1892. Davis took her first piano lesson as a first grader. She composed her first piece of music, Shadow March, at age 15. Accompanied by her younger brother who played violin, Davis played "anything and everything" she could get her hands on. One of her favorites was the score for Madame Butterfly, a copy of which her father brought home as a souvenir from a business trip. She eventually composed seven operas.

Davis graduated from St. Joseph High School in 1910. She entered Wellesley College planning to major in literature but majored in music instead, and before her junior year won the Billings Prize for Musical Composition. Following her graduation, she stayed on as an assistant in the Music Department, teaching theory and piano. Concurrently, she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. During a stay in France, Davis was taught by the preeminent conductor and teacher, Nadia Boulanger.

Davis taught music at the Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts and at the Shady Hill School for Girls in Philadelphia. She observed that there was a lack of music appropriate for girls' choruses, as well as for other choirs comprised primarily of untrained singers. Many of the more than 600 works that Davis composed were developed with an eye toward fulfilling that need. While in Concord, she studied choral music with classical composer Thomas Whitney Surette.

Davis' most famous composition, Little Drummer Boy (originally titled The Carol of the Drum), which she wrote in 1941, came to her while she was "...trying to take a nap." The words "...practically wrote themselves," she said. The song became famous when it was recorded by the Trapp Family Singers. Davis later quipped that it "...had been done to death on radio and TV."

She was a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and was granted an honorary doctorate from Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. She left all 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 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.