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Obituaries

Donald Gardner, 91; Wrote the Popular 'Two Front Teeth' Christmas Tune

September 26, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Donald Yetter Gardner, the songwriter best known for the children's classic yule tune "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth," has died. He was 91.

Gardner died Sept. 15 in a Brockton, Mass., hospital of complications from surgery after falling in his nearby Needham, Mass., home.

It was the beginning of the holiday season in 1944 when Gardner and his wife, Doris, were helping 22 second-graders in Smithtown, N.Y., compose a Christmas song. He asked them to complete the sentence, "All I want for Christmas is ... " and then began smiling as he heard 16 of them lisping wishes without the help of one or both front teeth.

That night, in the space of 30 minutes, the 31-year-old music teacher composed the ditty that would bring him royalties until the end of his life.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 29, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Gardner obituary -- The obituary of songwriter Donald Yetter Gardner in Sunday's California section attributed the falsetto voice of a small boy in the 1948 recording of "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" to bandleader Spike Jones. The singer was George Rock, a member of Jones' City Slickers band.

"I was amazed at the way that silly little song was picked up by the whole country," Gardner told the alumni newsletter of his West Chester University School of Music in 1995.

It took a few years to catch on. Initially, his Smithtown pupils sang the song annually at the school Christmas pageant. Then a woman who heard Gardner sing the tune at a music teachers conference introduced him to her boss at Witmark music company, which published the song in 1948.

Spike Jones and his City Slickers released a recording Dec. 6, 1948, with the bandleader using the falsetto voice of a little boy unable to pronounce words with the letter S. Jones' recording reached No. 1 on pop charts in 1949.

Gardner's children's song has been recorded by diverse artists such as Nat King Cole, the Chipmunks, the Platters, the Andrews Sisters, the Sesame Street cast, Mariah Carey and the Boston Pops. Cole's jazzy version was Gardner's favorite.

The tune also inspired other lighthearted Christmas songs that have become staples of the holiday season, including "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."

Gardner moved to suburban Boston and became a music consultant and editor for Ginn & Co. music publishers. He wrote songs for music textbooks, composed church music and directed church and community choirs.

Among his published hymns are "Man Shall Not Live by Bread Alone but by Every Word of God" and "Oh, Give Thanks Unto the Lord."

Gardner was born in Portland, Pa., the son of the town mayor and grandson of the town clerk. He earned his degree in music and met his future wife at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

Gardner is survived by his wife of 65 years, Doris Yoder Gardner; three sons, Richard of Needham, Mass., Jerry of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., and David of Peach Tree City, Ga.; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Lyrics

"All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth"

Everybody stops and stares at me.

These two teeth are gone as you can see.

I don't know just who to blame for this catastrophe.

But my one wish on Christmas Eve is as plain as it can be.

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,

My two front teeth, see my two front teeth!

Gee, if I could only have my two front teeth,

Then I could wish you "Merry Christmas."

It seems so long since I could say,

"Sister Susie sitting on a thistle."

Gosh, oh gee, how happy I'd be

If it could only whistle (thhhh).

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,

My two front teeth, see my two front teeth!

Gee, if I could only have my two front teeth,

Then I could wish you "Merry Christmas."

Warner Bros. PublicationsCopyright

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