37. "Mary's Boy Child," Harry BelafonteRCA 47-6735 b/w "Venezuela"
Highest chart position: #12 Pop (1956)
Recorded July 20, 1956, Hollywood, CA
Although it was presented in a "Negro" dialect, in keeping with Belafonte's early image as a calypso islander, this gentle, wonderfully understated hymn was actually written by the Julliard-trained songwriter Jester Hairston, who would later popularize the African-American spiritual "Amen" during the civil rights movement. Like that perennial, this one survives due to its sheer simplicity: it's a quiet retelling of the birth of Jesus, including the manger and how he got there. And while it only reached #12 in the US, "Mary's Boy Child" was a massive hit in the UK, sitting atop the charts for nine weeks and inspiring an even bigger, stranger dance version in the late Seventies by the group Boney M.
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