“Frosty the Snowman” was in good hands when hit songwriters Walter Rollins and Steve Nelson stepped into the studio to write it.
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Rollins, a native of West Virginia, and Nelson of New York, were already accomplished songwriters when they teamed up to write “Frosty,” which tells the tale of a jolly snowman who promises to return one day. Rollins crafted the instantly-recognizable lyrics while Nelson is responsible for the catchy melody.
The pair got their start in the late 1940s, penning songs for country stars Eddy Arnold, Gene Autry, and Hank Snow. Arnold’s “A Prison Without Walls,” “I Don’t Hurt Anymore,” Snow’s “With This Ring I Thee Wed” and Wade Ray and The Ozark Mountain Boys’ “Heart of a Clown” are among some of their earliest cuts together. Rollins also had a No. 1 hit on Snow’s “I Don’t Hurt Anymore.”
Nelson found particular success with Arnold writing “A Heart Full of Love (For a Handful of Kisses),” which topped the country charts around 1948, along with “Bouquet of Roses,” which hit No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart and was a top 15 hit on the Hot 100, becoming one of Nelson’s biggest hits.
“I had what I believed to be a very beautiful melody running around in my head,” Nelson told country music historian Dorothy Horstmann about writing “Bouquet of Roses,” according to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. “One day I met [co-writer] Bob Hilliard at the recording studio, and I sang it to him. He agreed that it was a ‘sweet’ tune, and as the word ‘sweet’ implied something romantic and flowery, we pursued that direction and finally came up with the title ‘Bouquet of Roses,’ and then started to collaborate on the lyrics. The song was finished the following day.”
Nelson also had a four-week No. 1 with Arnold’s “I’m Throwing Rice (At the Girl I Love).” Nelson was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973.
As for Rollins, his writing career began as a young poet. The Cumberland News-Times reports that Rollins grew up writing poems and adding melodies to them at his mother’s request. “It was her who said, ‘Maybe you ought to put some music to it,'” Rollins’ grandson, James Busemeyer, told The Charleston Gazette in 1973 about Rollins’ mother’s influence. “She always encouraged him quite a bit. He felt very close with her.”
Rollins was working at Penn Station in New York City when he sold his first song for five dollars, soon quitting to be a songwriter full-time. Before “Frosty” came along, Rollins and Nelson proved they had musical magic when they wrote “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” in 1949. The latter also became the title of a children’s film released in 1971.
In 1950 they wrote “Frosty,” which was first recorded by Autry and his band The Cass County Boys later that year. The country cowboy turned the festive tune into a hit, reaching No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 4 on the Hot Country Songs chart.
However, the now-famous version that opens the beloved 1969 animated TV special is the voice of Jimmy Durante singing:
There must have been some magic
In that old top hat they found
For when they placed it on his head
He began to dance around
Oh, Frosty the Snowman
Was alive as he could be
And the children say he could laugh and play
Just the same as you and me
In addition to Autry, “Frosty” was a hit for many other artists, with Nat King Cole’s rendition also becoming a top 10 hit on the Hot 100 in 1950. Like Autry, Durante also reached No. 7 on the all-genre chart. The Ronettes, Johnny Mathis and former American Idol contestant Kimberley Locke are among other artists who’ve recorded covers.
“Frosty” isn’t the only youth-friendly tune the pair wrote. They’re also behind the theme song for the Smokey Bear campaign that was sung by Arnold.
(Photo by Dinendra Haria/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)