Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins: “Here Comes Peter Cottontail”

Every year as Easter approaches, I think of the perennial holiday classic, the beloved song “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.” Written in 1949 by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins (who also wrote “Frosty, the Snowman”), the song was recorded by Gene Autry in 1950. It became an instant hit, reaching #5 on the Billboard charts.

It’s a much-beloved song for my mother and me, too, for I made my singing debut in first grade performing “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.”

My school – Boggstown Elementary School in rural Indiana – announced a talent competition. When I got wind of it, I hurried home to tell my mother the news. Could we get an act together? We hatched the idea of a girls’ trio. I and two of my friends would sing a song, and my mother, an accomplished pianist, would accompany us.

I asked my friends – they were in! But what song would we sing? The talent show would be the week before Easter, and Mom struck on the idea of “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.” Wouldn’t it be adorable to see three first-grade girls singing the famous Easter song? She got the sheet music at a local music store, my friends came over to practice, and we were set. I couldn’t wait for my debut!

On the night of the show, we got to the school gymnasium early. It doubled as a performance space, complete with a stage and a piano. My parents and I went to the elementary school version of the green room. Mom put a little makeup on me and my friends – just so we wouldn’t look “washed out” on stage. How thrilling – makeup! And I was wearing my brand-new flowered Easter dress, with a satiny ribbon tie at the waist. I felt glamorous indeed.

All of the other performers – many of them big sixth-graders – were backstage as well. Parents and teachers hovered around, getting everyone ready. My friends and I were the only first-graders who would be in the show. I was nervous and excited! We were going to sing for everyone at the school! Maybe we would win! I couldn’t help sharing my enthusiasm with my parents. Both of them were smiling and encouraging, but both said, “Now, Lin, there are lots of children performing. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t win.” Not win? How could they even think that? It didn’t occur to me that the odds were stacked against us – the older kids would undoubtedly have more talent, but as a six-year-old, I didn’t realize that.

It seemed like our names would never be called – we were last on the program. But finally, the announcer called our names. My friends and I went out on stage in our Easter dresses, and my mom took her seat at the piano. “Here comes Peter Cottontail,” we sang joyfully, “hoppin’ down the bunny trail.”

The performance went beautifully – all three of us remembered the words and sang right in tune together. At the end, we curtsied just as my mother had taught us.

Then we joined the audience, and it was time to hear the results. To my parents’ amazement and to my delight, we won first place! The cuteness factor – three little girls in new Easter dresses singing together just before the big holiday – probably won us that trophy even more than our singing talent. But we didn’t care. We’d sung “Here Comes Peter Cottontail,” and we’d won!

Now more than fifty years later, it’s time to get ready again for Easter. Treat yourself to a little nostalgia with Gene Autry singing “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.”