“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…”

Lovely, isn’t it? We have all sung those words aloud to ourselves, a loved one or a special friend. It’s almost a rite of passage for parents and grandparents! But, lean in and listen a little closer, and this seminal song will whisper something else in your ear: unrequited love.



Where do we start? The song, often thought to be public domain, has been published by Peer Music – with writing credits claimed by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell – since 1939. Western balladeer Davis released his version of the tune in the early 1940s and the record was rated among the top five country music recordings of 1941, even topping the then-new Billboard Top Hillbilly Recordings of the Month charts. All the time, however, the man who likely wrote the song never received any credit. Oliver Hood, a softly-spoken teacher, musician and cotton mill doffer, is believed to have first sung its melody and lyrics as early as 1933. The father of eight, author of 1959’s ‘Someone Stole My Sunshine Away’, was an amateur performer and songwriter from Georgia who is believed to have sold the song to fellow musician and friend Paul Rice, founder of 1930s Decca recording artists The Rice Brothers Gang…



Who knows! While it’s doubtful ‘You Are My Sunshine’ will ever become public domain, one day the truth about whoever wrote it will be revealed. In the meantime, whether it was written in Georgia or developed from a Ukrainian folk song (that’s a rumour, too!) countless cover versions have made the tune one of the most famous pieces of Americana in history. The list of artists to have recorded the song is a who’s who of country music, including names such as The Pine Ridge Boys, Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, Pete Seeger, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, The Carter Family and The Civil Wars. More recently, Black Deer festival favourites The Dead South (pictured above) joined the party with a minor key lament take on the classic that shines a torch into the darker corners of the tale the tune tells.



The story of a troubled love affair, there’s a dark heart beating in ‘You Are My Sunshine’ that those countless sing-a-long cover versions conceal. The duality of the song’s message rests in verses such as “the other night dear, as I lay sleeping/I dreamed I held you in my arms/But when I awoke, dear, I was mistaken/So I hung my head and I cried.” Not exactly uplifting, eh? Though that depends on what you go to music for. How ‘You Are My Sunshine’ has stormed the citadel of popular music and crept its way into bedtime lullaby territory by concerning itself with universal authenticity and a simple melody is a revelation in itself. Three chords and the truth? You better believe it, especially when the right singer gets hold of the tune and tells its tale twisted and taut over minimal backing that encourages listeners to take its message to heart.



At the turn of the last century, ‘You Are My Sunshine’ was honoured with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and the Recording Industry Association of America named it one of their ‘Songs of the Century’. More recently the song became the state of Louisiana’s official song and the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress added it for long-term preservation in 2013. Of course, the song also featured famously in The Coen Brothers’ catalytic ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’…

Read Story of the Song #4: ‘Black Myself’ here.