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In 1847 Placide Cappeau (1808-1877), a French wine merchant and an amateur poet, was asked to write a Christmas poem by a local parish priest. Shortly afterwards Cappeau traveled to Paris on a business trip and about half way through his journey, he had the inspiration for the poem Minuit, Chretiens ("Midnight Christians"). When Cappeau arrived in Paris, he took it to the composer Adolphe Adam (1803-1856), a friend of a friend. Adam, who specialized in light opera, is best remembered today for the ballet Giselle. He wrote the tune in a few days and the hymn was played for the first time at midnight mass that Christmas Eve back in his home town of Roquemaure. The carol was frowned upon by church authorities, who denounced it for lack of musical taste and "total absence of the spirit of religion." Many churchmen felt that Adam, a composer of light operatic works and ballets, was an inappropriate composer of a religious song. However within a few years the carol was being translated into other languages and in 1855, an American Unitarian clergyman John Sullivan Dwight (1813-1893), the editor of Dwight's Journal of Music, translated it into English, calling it "O Holy Night."
This carol has the distinction of being the first song ever to be played live on a radio broadcast. On December 24, 1906 a Canadian inventor, Reginald Fessenden, broadcast one of the first ever AM radio programs, and the first ever to feature entertainment and music for a general audience, from his Brant Rock, Massachusetts station. After playing Handel's "Largo" on an Ediphone phonograph, he proceeded to play "O Holy Night" on his violin, singing the last verse as he played. He finished the broadcast by reading various passages from the Gospel of Luke, before wishing his listeners a Merry Christmas.
In a 2006 poll of over 37,000 listeners, the British classical music radio station Classic FM voted this carol as the UK's Christmas favorite.
Clay Aiken's album Merry Christmas With Love won a Billboard Award for the Best Selling Christian Album of 2005.
In the first ever Official Carols Chart by the Official Charts Company in December 2009, it was revealed this is the most downloaded carol in the UK. Runner up was "Silent Night
", followed by "Once In Royal David's City
" in third place. Official Charts Company MD Martin Talbot commented: "The fact that 'O Holy Night' has beaten more familiar carols such as 'Silent Night' and 'Away In A Manger
' is something of a surprise, although its success is driven by the fact that popular mainstream singers such as Celine Dion, Aled Jones and Katherine Jenkins have recorded new versions over recent years."
The carol entered the UK singles chart for the first time in 2012 with a version by the children of Ladywell Primary School in Motherwell, Scotland. Proceeds from their single went to meningitis charities and it was recorded in memory of a 6-year-old classmate who died from the illness.
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