Oklahoma Profile: Gayla Peevey
December 8, 2017
Like many people, December is one of my favorite months. One reason for this, of course, is Christmas. I also like the weather much better than our miserably hot Oklahoma summers.
Also like many people, I like to hear Christmas songs – although it doesn’t take long for me to get my fill of them.
But certainly every December, I like to hear all of the old traditional Christmas tunes at least a few times on the radio or in stores where I might be shopping.
Some, of course – like “Silent Night” – highlight the religious aspects of Christmas while others talk about Santa Claus, getting presents, and winter weather. One would be hard-pressed to find someone who does not like “Jingle Bells” or “Frosty the Snowman.”
Some folks love the non-traditional novelty songs like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”
The latter song became a major hit in 1953 when it was recorded by a girl from Oklahoma named Gayla Peevey.
Peevey was born in Oklahoma City in 1943 and, thus, was 10 years old when she recorded the song. It quickly sold half a million copies, becoming the best-selling Christmas record that year.
Peevey’s parents soon moved to California in an attempt to capitalize on their daughter’s new-found fame. She appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and other major television programs.
The song also sparked a fundraising drive to acquire a baby hippopotamus for the Oklahoma City zoo.
When the campaign raised enough money, the organizers presented Peevey with a 700-pound hippo youngster named Matilda. Peevey immediately donated the animal to the zoo (as previously planned) where it lived for almost 50 years.
Meanwhile, Peevey’s career never took off. She had a minor hit as a teenager with “My Little Marine” about a young girl who worries about her boyfriend who has joined the military. But that was it.
Today she is a 74-year-old grandmother living in California, happy to be known for a cute little Christmas song she recorded 64 years ago.