PPP056: A Little Music History: You Are My Sunshine

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A Little Music History

You Are My Sunshine has been an iconic part of the musical fabric of the United States, if not the world, for the last several decades.

Like many folk tunes, the original history of this tune is uncertain. Here are some popular theories:

It might have been written by a woman from South Carolina who gave it to the Pine Ridge Boys who were the first group to produce a professional recording of it.

Maybe it was written by Paul Rice in 1933 as the result of a letter he received from a fan.

Jimmie Davis, former governor of Louisiana, recorded the most well-known version and used it on the campaign trail.

It could have been written by Oliver Hood, from LaGrange, Georgia.

No matter who originally wrote the piece, it has been a popular favorite across the decades. Recorded by such greats as Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, and the Righteous Brothers, this simple tune offers a sort of musical trip down memory lane to hear how each artist added their own twist.

In my research for this episode, I discovered a wonderful website that helps us take that trip down memory lane.

Visit Second Hand Songs to hear many versions of “You Are My Sunshine.”

I think learning the history of a song or piece of music helps make a personal connection for your piano kid. Learning more about the composer or the circumstance that brought the music about helps them appreciate the piece.

Play by Ear

Since this is such a simple tune, it is a great project one to try to play by ear. The melody moves mostly by steps (from one white piano key to the next white piano key) or skips (from one white piano key to another, skipping one white piano key in the middle) with some repeated notes.

Playing by ear is a wonderful musical skill for your piano kid to develop. Please give them time to “noodle” around at the piano. Playing melodies by ear is definitely a type of practicing.

Write it Down

James King mentioned writing music by hand in his interview in Episode 054.

Johann Sebastian Bach is known for copying his big brother’s music by candlelight at night.

There is something magical when you take a pencil in hand and write things down, whether it’s music or a poem or someone’s phone number.

Because I believe hand writing music is so important, I’ve created a worksheet to help your piano kid write the melody of “You Are My Sunshine.”

Get the FREE melody worksheet here.

Add Your Own Personality (even your brooding teenager personality)

The thing that I found so interesting as I was listening to recordings from each decade is how much the music changed with each style.

The simple melody with three simple chords has an endless possibility of styles depending on the creativity of the group or artist, the instruments they use and the speed of their performance all the way down to the mood – major or minor.

With this next worksheet, students a guided in adding harmony with chords and changing to the minor mode if they want.

Get the FREE harmony worksheet here.

Here is one of my daughter’s favorite Chase Holfelder videos of a popular song with a minor twist. 

How would you play You Are My Sunshine? Share your videos in the comments below or on the podcast Facebook page.

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