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Smithtown, A History: A Song is Born

A holiday classic was inspired by Smithtown students.

The classic Christmas song “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” was written and composed right here in Smithtown.  

In the 1940s Donald Gardner was a music teacher at the New York Avenue building. At the time it was a school for children in kindergarten through 12th grade.  

Gardner’s wife Doris, also a former Smithtown teacher, said one day he was working with a second grade class to prepare their song for a Christmas show. She said the children were laughing, and Gardner noticed about 16 out of the 22 students were missing their front teeth. Their toothless smiles inspired him to write the holiday tune.  

Rosamond Gillespie Burns was in one of the higher grades at the time, and the music teacher was one of the people who encouraged Burns to find her singing voice. She remembers the older children singing the song a few years before it was recorded.  

“That was a very dear memory to me,” said Burns.     

Originally recorded by Spike Jones and His City Slickers in 1948, the catchy holiday song has been covered through the decades by many artists including Danny Kaye, The Platters, Nat King Cole, and The Chipmunks. According to his wife, Nat King Cole’s was Gardner’s favorite version. 

Doris said the couple encountered people all over the world who were familiar with the tune. During a trip to London, they were talking to one woman who said, “My mother taught me that song when I was five years old.” 

The Gardners lived in Smithtown for about 10 to 12 years. According to Doris, they were involved in church choirs and her husband was a volunteer with the Smithtown Fire Department. 

Their son Richard remembers Smithtown fondly. He said, “The nicest part about Smithtown at the time was you got to know everybody.” 

Gardner left teaching to work for Ginn & Co. music publishers in Manhattan. When the company moved to Massachusetts, the family followed.  

This year Gardner’s great-granddaughter Sophia Burns has been chosen to sing the song with the Wellesley Symphony Orchestra at their Holiday Pops show in Massachusetts on December 12. 

Doris was happy to hear that Smithtown Elementary School students are also still performing the song at their annual holiday sing-a-long. For over 20 years, Principal Paul Graf has shared the story of its origins with those in attendance, and then brings up the kids who are missing their teeth to sing. 

Gardner, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1913, passed away in 2004. However, decades after it was first sung by Smithtown students, his song lives on.

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