HELMS ROBERT “BOBBY” LEE
AUGUST 15, 1933
JUNE 9, 1997
—HERE LIES A LEGEND—
Mr. JINGLE BELL ROCK
BLESSED ARE THEY THAT MOURN
FOR THEY SHALL BE COMFORTED MATTHEW 5:4
At this time of year, radio stations are playing classic holiday songs like Big Crosby’s “White Christmas”, “Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives, and “Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt, among many others. Late in 1957, Decca records released “Jingle Bell Rock” by country singer, Bobby Helms. He had two country hits that same year with “Fraulein” and “My Special Angel” both of which hit number 1 on the country charts and became cross-over hits, as well, making their way into the Top 40. By Mid-December, “Jingle Bell Rock” was on nearly every radio station’s playlist and even being danced to on American Bandstand when it climbed to number 6 on the Top 40. Within five years “Jingle Bell Rock” sold over two million records and has become a holiday favorite.
The singer, Bobby Helms, was born in Helmsburg, Indiana, most likely settled and named for his ancestors. Helms picked up his musical bent from his parents, Fred and Hildreth Esther, and first started singing in a duo with his brother, Freddie, before he struck out on his own and headed to Nashville, Tennessee, to make a name for himself. Helms travelled round the country performing but spent most of his life living outside Martinsville, Indiana. Helms is buried in the Hilldale Cemetery at Martinsville; his light-gray granite gravestone marking his fame as the singer of the bouncy Christmas tune. He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, but his most fitting tribute is that “Jingle Bell Rock” has been on the holiday playlist since it was first released in the fall of ’57 and has remained there ever since.
I want to give my colleague and friend, Mack, a shout out for giving me a heads up about this famous grave in his home town.