Although it already existed in the live repertoires of Bette Midler, Tracy Nelson and co-writer Alex Harvey, “Delta Dawn” and its title character’s faded rose entered the great American songbook when covered in 1972 by an upstart teenager named Tanya Tucker.
Harvey, a Delta blues rocker, co-wrote “Delta Dawn” with Larry Collins, one-half of the famed Collins Kids rockabilly duo with his sister Lorrie. Producer Billy Sherill picked the song for Tucker’s Columbia Records debut album after he saw Midler perform it on The Tonight Show.
Just like listeners later marveled at LeAnn Rimes effectively singing “Blue” despite being too young to really feel its lyrics, there was a novelty to a 13-year-old Texas native tackling a mature song. In it, she becomes the voice of a 41-year-old Southern belle from Brownsville who’s longing for the “mysterious dark-haired man” of low degree. Aside from that wisdom beyond its years appeal, it carried on a long country music tradition of fans flocking to talented kids, from the youngest members of the earliest family singing groups to viral sensation Mason Ramsey.
An Adult Contemporary and Country Standard
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Adult contemporary star and “I am Woman” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” singer Helen Reddy’s version from 1973 took Tucker’s number six country hit to the top spot on the Billboard easy listening charts. Since it came out close to Reddy’s Capitol Records single, Midler’s Atlantic Records support team withheld her version from radio play. Instead, its b-side “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” became a hit.
Over time, producers improved at making the most of Tucker’s throaty vocal style. Slight improvements can be heard on her first number one single, 1973’s “What’s Your Mama’s Name,” and future additions to her biggest hits. Still, her debut top ten outing jump-started an ongoing career towards its eventual peak.