Stories behind the songs

I am a student of songs and songwriters. I love to explore the history of songs I play and I enjoy sharing these stories with my audience.

“You Are My Sunshine” was written in 1939 by Jimmie Davis, who became the Governor of Louisiana.  When tornados tore through Moore, Oklahoma in 2013, teachers at the elementary school rushed the children into the safety of the school bathroom and led them in singing You Are My Sunshine to keep them from panicking. It is the most popular sing-along song in America, even though the verses are rather dark and depressing!

 

“Side By Side” was written by Harry Woods in 1927. He was an accomplished piano player, even though he was born with no fingers on his left hand. His mother, a concert singer, encouraged him to play piano at a very early age and by the time he entered Harvard University, he was supporting himself by giving piano recitals. He also wrote “When the Red, Red Robin(Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbing)”,”I’m Looking Over a Four-leaf Clover” and “Try a Little Tenderness”.

 

“Goodnight Irene” was written by the blues singer Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter) while he was in jail in Texas for murder (1918-1925). Texas Governor, Pat Morris Neff, was a fan and often brought guests to the prison to hear Leadbelly sing. In 1925 he gave him a free pardon, saying “You can do more good by singing your music outside this prison than you can do inside here!” “Goodnight Irene” became popular in 1950 when it was a number one hit for The Weavers.

 

“Yesterday”

This Beatles classic was written by Paul McCartney after he woke up from a dream with the melody in his head. To help him remember it, he sang it as “Scrambled eggs/Oh my baby how I love your legs/Not as much as I love scrambled eggs" and the first recordings of the song kept these words. McCartney didn’t come up with the final lyrics for Yesterday until almost a year later.

 

“What a Wonderful World”

In America, this song became a beloved standard, but when it was first released in 1968, it barely dented the charts, peaking at #116. It was more appreciated 20 years later when it was used in the Robin Williams movie Good Morning, Vietnam; the song was re-released to coincide with the film, and this time charted at #32.

 

Kris Kristofferson, the renowned singer-songwriter-slash-history-professor-slash-janitor-slash-helicopter-pilot combined three of those five skills into one amazing songwriting pitch. In 1969, as Johnny Cash later recalled it, he and June Carter Cash were at their Nashville-area home, when a helicopter landed on their lawn. Kristofferson stepped out of the chopper with a beer in hand, and announced, “I thought this might be the best way to get a song to you—bring it right out of the sky”. The song “Sunday Morning Coming Down” was a number-one hit for Cash the following year. 

 

For decades, no one knew who Caroline of Neil Diamond’s 1969 hit “Sweet Caroline” was. Nearly 40 years after its release, Diamond finally revealed that he was struck by the innocence of a picture he saw in a magazine while on tour in the ‘60s: a little girl riding a pony. The girl? Caroline Kennedy. Diamond was able to tell his muse this story when he played the song for her at her 50th birthday party in 2007. 

 

“Save The Last Dance for Me”

Doc Pomus wrote this Drifters song after watching everyone else dance with his bride at their wedding.  Pomus had polio as a boy and could not dance.

 

“Besame Mucho” is the most-sung and most-requested Mexican song – a Cinco De Mayo staple. “Besame mucho” is Spanish for “Kiss Me a Lot!”. This sensual song was written in 1940 by 15-year-old Consuela Velazquez who had never been kissed, and, she told later, had regarded kissing as a sin!

(More stories added weekly)