Recorded by Jimmie Davis in 1940 with Decca, “You Are My Sunshine” quickly garnered worldwide appreciation. When I was growing up, it was my favourite song, and most likely my sister’s, and now it’s my niece’s. I remember asking my mom what the song was about, and she said it was about the singer’s husband going off to war. Surprised, I confessed I always thought it was about a mother having her child taken away. She readily admitted she’d actually made up that explanation on the spot.
Unbeknownst to me, however, I had only ever heard a loop of the first two stanzas. It wasn’t until I started researching for this node that I found out it had another two verses I’d never heard. They, despite the song being regularly described as “inspirational”, clearly describe a heartbroken lover being left for another. After that, there are two stanzas that were added extolling Louisiana’s virtues (enabling it to be named a state song).
Jimmie Davis bought the rights for “You Are My Sunshine” from Paul Rice (who may have bought from someone else) for between fifteen dollars and five hundred dollars. He recorded a version in 1931, but it didn’t catch on until his 1940 version. It would go on to sell a million copies, be named King George VI’s favourite song, be recorded over 350 times by various artists, be translated into 30 different languages, and be named one of country music’s most recognized songs.
Maybe I’m a revisionist, but I won’t start singing “But now you’ve left me / And love another / You have shattered all my dreams”. I’ll sing it to my niece the way my mother sang it to me.
You’ll never know, dear
How much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.