…You make me happy when skies are gray

This is my 500th musical posting (of one form or another) and I thought it would be an easy one, as we head-out to help our youngest settle-in for her first semester at college. It’s a familiar milestone to many, I know, but it’s still hard not to peer back though the years at other such milestones: her first word (“moon”), her first steps and the first song this old boy taught her to sing.

Although it’s a romantic tune, filled with loss and regret, I only knew the memorable refrain to “You Are My Sunshine” and found the words to be perfect for a high hitting three year old to follow while she was characteristically perched on my shoulders.  Naturally I’d heard plenty of versions of the song, with my favorites being those by Bing Crosby and Bryan Ferry.  As for Gene Autry, I simply assumed that he was the one who wrote it.  But he didn’t.  Nor did the fellow who claimed it as his and then parlayed the subsequent renown into a successful political career.

After country singer, Jimmie Davis’ recording in 1940; “You Are My Sunshine” became one of the top five country releases for that year, prompting both Autry and Crosby to cover it in 1941. Davis maintained that he wrote the song while attending LSU and sure enough, its copyright proclaims that the words and music were written by Jimmie Davis and (his associate) Charles Mitchell.

When Crosby and Autry recorded the song it became such a huge international hit that Davis was set for life.  In light of his augmented celebrity, which soon paved the way for a series of “horse operas” on the silver screen, he set his sites on running for governor of his home state of Louisiana. Singing his beloved tune at every campaign rally while riding a horse named, “Sunshine”, he was elected in 1944 and again in 1960.  In time it even became an official state song of Louisiana.

The fact that two earlier, 1939, versions of “You Are My Sunshine” eventually cropped up, the first by the Pine Ridge Boys from Atlanta, the second by the Rice Brothers from Shreveport, was explained away with Davis asserting that he hadn’t been able to convince a studio to record his version of the song and finally resorted to making his own record after the other versions had been released.

It was only after Jimmie Davis was long in his dotage (and living to the age of 101, he had a long one at that) that the truth came to light. Buying songs from their writers and claiming authorship had been a common practice in the 1930s and, with his wife in the hospital, Paul Rice of the Rice Brothers was in debt. So he sold the publishing (and authorship) rights to Davis and Mitchell for $35, with each man paying $17.50.  Incredibly, Mitchell later sold his share to Davis, although it was agreed that he would continue to share songwriting credits.

And still there’s more to the story. It is now commonly accepted that Rice himself had appropriated “You Are My Sunshine” from a songwriter and music teacher named Oliver Hood who lived in LaGrange, Georgia.  Although his family pressed him to demand recognition (not to mention royalties), the affable, soft-spoken Hood chose to steer clear of the potential hornet’s nest, leaving a “paper sack” on which he penned his classic lyrics …along with the engaging “what if” story that accompanied it…to his descendants when he died in 1959.

“What if” indeed…as I quickly discovered while looking for an enjoyable rendition for today. The iTunes Store alone features at least 500 cover versions with genres running from the predictable (Folk, Country, Gospel, Children’s, etc.) to the surprising (Funk, New Age, Dubstep, Hip Hop, Calypso, Disco, Skiffle, Polka, Salsa, etc.).

The same can be said of those who have recorded it.  As featured on albums such as: “Singin’ Sidesaddle”, “To Mommy I Love You”, “Public Cowboy No. 1”, and “90 Nifty Songs”, you fully expect to see names like: Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Carly Simon, Aretha Franklin, Nat King Cole, Johnny Cash in a duet with Bob Dylan, Mel Torme, Slim Whitman, Pete Seeger, Box Car Willie, B.B. King, Doris Day, Mitch Miller, The Statler Brothers, and (even perhaps) Ike & Tina Turner, Dick Dale and Brian Wilson.

And although they may not be on your current radar you can still imagine the appeal of recording artists with names like: Root’n Toot’n, Wiggleworms, The Hit Crew, Little Miss Ann, Orange Sherbert, and The Copa Kings.

But I must say that I didn’t expect to see such performers as: Cold Blood, Veggie Tales, Electric Slide DJs, Baby Care Masters, The Lesser Birds of Paradise, Uku the Mighty, Xplore, Joy & the Spiders, Kindermusik International, Evil String Band, FunkeyMonkeys, Smashlouse, The Great Republic of Rough & Ready, US Army Blues Swamp Romp, Lord and Lady Destroyer, Sleep Good, Leechboy, My Monkey, Cheng Fangyaun or Screeching Weasel.

Nor did I expect its inclusion on albums with titles like: “Down With Humans”, “Body Art (23 Erotic Lounge and Chill House Tracks)”, “Trojan Sunshine Reggae”, “The Grime and the Glow”, “Snappy Doo”, “Melveen’s Hawaiian Country Hits”, “Jocky Club Ibeza”, “Clarinet is King”, “The Angel of Death”, “Speaking in Drums”,  “A Ukrainian Tradition” , “Liberian Libation”, “British Pub Songs”, “Spanish Grease” or “Ballermann Apres Ski Warmup”.

What’s especially interesting, when you’re in the thick of it all, is that “You Are My Sunshine” sung as a Children’s Lullaby or a Gospel song, takes no presedence over the Rap or Heavy Metal versions that come with a warning about explicit lyrics.

Call me sentimental but in the end I opted for something new (to me at least) and, considering the occasion, mellow.  And so I went with a New York artist who has been performing and recording children’s music since 1998.  Featured on her uniquely named 2002 album, “You Are My Sunshine” this is Elizabeth Mitchell, with not one but two renditions of a truly American classic.

 LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – PART ONE – Saturday 18 August

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – PART TWO – Saturday 18 August

You Are My Sunshine


 You are my sunshine

My only sunshine

You make me happy

When skies are grey

You’ll never know, dear

How much I love you

Please don’t take my sunshine away

The other night, dear

As I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms

When I awoke, dear,
I was mistaken

And I hung my head and cried

You are my sunshine

My only sunshine

You make me happy

When skies are grey

You’ll never know, dear

How much I love you

Please don’t take my sunshine away

I’ll always love you

And make you happy

If you will only say the same

But if you leave me

To love another

You’ll regret it all some day

You are my sunshine

My only sunshine

You make me happy

When skies are grey

You’ll never know, dear

How much I love you

Please don’t take my sunshine away

You told me once, dear

You really loved me

And no one else could come between

But now you’ve left me

And love another

You have shattered all my dreams

You are my sunshine

My only sunshine

You make me happy

When skies are grey

You’ll never know, dear

How much I love you

Please don’t take my sunshine away

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