There was a segment of ABC’s Nightly News that covered the therapeutic use of gentle, soothing music for newborns in the NICU. A mom was singing You Are My Sunshine to her child in order to increase PO2 and decrease heart rate. Then there was a Pepsi commercial right after that had a longer version of this same song. And Pepsi isn’t the only one using it in a commercial. Clearly the copyright has expired.
So I wondered: Where did this song come from? I know I sang my child to sleep with it almost nightly. What mom didn’t? And I remember a few versions…Ray Charles comes to mind, and several folk singers. I also remember different lyrics, different tempos, and different versions that veered far from the original. According to Wiki:
It was penned by Oliver Hood and first recorded in 1939 by Jimmie Davis who changed it enough to grab a copyright. But like many songs before it, the true origin will probably never be known. Since then Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner, The Beach Boys, Bing Crosby, and every country music recording artist on the planet have either recorded it or placed it in their staged programs. How it came to usurp Rock-A-Bye Baby as the go-to lullaby, I don’t know, but if you think about it, the two have a strong similarity in cadence. Try singing one while someone sings the other.
Louisiana named it one of its state songs (who knew you could have two?) probably because that first recording artist became the governor. And by sheer popularity, The National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress added the Davis version for “long-term preservation” in March of this year. Maybe that’s why we’re hearing it everywhere.
Serendipity is a strange thing, and all of this has reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. In this Youtube the Soggy Mountain Boys sing their hit Constant Sorrow, and end with a chorus of You Are My Sunshine. As hard as they tried to make him look bad, George Clooney (who is not really singing) is still the stud muffin of the century. Who cares if he can’t carry a tune.