November 12, 2006

Santas and Hippos, Oh My!

Christmas season has started at 77 Santas. This is the undertaking of three people and we hope to focus on all the things we love about Christmas, mainly the music. However, we’ll touch upon some movies, art, TV, and anything else we can think of. We hope to make at least one post per day from now until Christmas. Some will vary in length, according to the time we have, but we love this time of year and love to spread holiday cheer.

For the first post, it’s only fitting that I begin with our namesake. “77 Santas” by Gayla Peevey.

Peevey is probably most famous for the novelty song “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” a 1953 regional hit in Oklahoma City. Peevey was only ten at the time. The exact origins of the song seem unclear. One version says that the Oklahoma City Zoo had no hippo at the time and that Peevey sang this song as a fundraiser. Another version, one claimed to have been corrected by Peevey. This comes from Wikipedia: “The record was released nationally by Columbia Records and because the Oklahoma City Zoo needed a hippo at the time, the song gave them the idea of putting together a major media blitz asking kids to send in nickels and dimes to raise money to buy Gayla a hippopotamus for Christmas. Matilda, a baby hippo, was presented to me, and I donated her to the zoo. In a roundabout way the song indeed helped the zoo acquire a hippopotamus, but the song was not recorded for that purpose.”

Peevey recorded a few other hits, including “77 Santas.” This song probably dates to the mid-to-late 50s. She recorded several Christmas songs during this era—this is the only other song that I’ve heard. Her voice is distinct, precocious and childlike that captures that exuberance for all things Christmas that kids feel during December.

Around 1960, Peevey recorded pop songs under a pseudonym but none achieved much success. Still, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” remains popular on Christmas radio stations and collectors of novelty records. The last known fact about Peevey, at least according to one website, is that she lived in San Diego in 1999. We wish her well and would love to know the real story about these songs. So Gayla, if you happen to read this, let us know.

77 Santas – Gayla Peevey

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas – Gayla Peevey

Or, read the book!

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