Music

'You Are My Sunshine': The Story Behind the Timeless American Song

Screengrab via YouTube

'You Are My Sunshine" is a timeless song that has been around for over 80 years. The first verse of the sing-along is one of the most well-known songs across the nation.

"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."

No one knows who wrote the famous first verse of the lullaby. Some say a woman from South Carolina wrote the song, others credit country music singer Oliver Hood with writing it.

The song was released in 1939 by songwriter Paul Rice and has been recorded over 350 times by artists like Bob Dylan, Gene Autry, The Pine Ridge Boys, Johnny Cash, Carly Simon, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Brian Wilson.

After Rice released the song, he sold the lyrics to Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell for $35. In 1940, Davis recorded the song and it became an instant country music hit.

In 1944 and 1959, Davis ran for governor of Louisiana and used the song for his campaign. The song became even more popular and was named the official state song of Louisiana in 1977.

The song continues to be recorded and released today. It can be sung as a love song, a heartbreak song, or a lullaby. With each passing generation, it finds a way to shine. Between the happy melody and the somewhat mournful lyrics, the song can be whatever the artists make it; I believe this is why all artists have different versions of the songs.

The best-known version of the song is by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.

The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamt I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I bowed my head and I criedYou 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 awayI've always loved you and made you happy
And nothing else could come between
But now you've left me to love another
You have shattered all of my dreamsYou 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

Oliver Hood & 'You Are My Sunshine'

According to Hood's family, his children have a brown paper sack that has the original lyrics to 'You Are My Sunshine written on the back and he first performed the song in 1933 at the VFW in LaGrange, Georgia. Hood and his musician pals did not see their music as a for-profit business. They wrote and played to bring joy and share their love. However, after 1940, when 'You Are My Sunshine'  became an American hit song, Hood started to copyright his music.

In 1957, Hood wrote and copyrighted a song called 'Somebody Stole My Sunshine Away.' The song was never recorded.

I believe this is one of the greatest mysteries of country music. Did Oliver Hood write 'You Are My Sunshine?' I guess the world may never know.

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'You Are My Sunshine': The Story Behind the Timeless American Song