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Album: An Evening With BelafonteReleased: 1957Charted:
Originally, this was a West Indian song written by Jester Hairston, a Julliard-trained songwriter who would later popularize the spiritual "Amen" during the civil rights movement in the United States. The song tells the story of the birth of Jesus.
When this reached #1, Harry Belafonte became the first black male to have a #1 in the UK. It was the first song to sell 1 million copies in the UK, and the first ever British #1 record to have a playing time of more than four minutes (4:12).
This stayed at #1 in the UK for seven weeks before becoming the only song to drop from #1 straight out of Top 10 the following week (after Christmas, when it tumbled from #1 to #12). The song returned to the charts the next two years at Christmas, going to #10 in 1958 and #30 in 1959.
During the Christmas season of 1978, Boney M. returned the song to the top of the British charts with the melody "Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord." According to Boney M. member Marcia Barrett in the book 1000 UK #1 Hits
by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, "I always thought of Boney M. as being put together by a spiritual force and we liked doing spiritual songs. When we did Mary's Boy Child, we added a bit spontaneously at the end. As it worked, we left it in." Hence the record was listed as a medley of "Mary's Boy Child" and "Oh My Lord."
At the end of 2007, Boney M's medley of this song and "Oh My Lord" was the 10th top selling single of all time in the UK. In addition Boney M's version of "River's Of Babylon" was at that date the fifth top selling single of all time in the UK, making them the only act to have 2 singles in the UK all-time Top 10 best sellers list.