SMITH COLUMN: You are My Sunshine

Published 10:48 am Friday, January 26, 2024

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LAGRANGE – It is always exhilarative to become knowledgeable about the history of Georgia towns and communities and what their signature factoid might be; to explore their history and lore is fun and uplifting.

A slave owner, lawyer, soldier, and politician by the name of Julius Caesar Alford was born in Greensboro and later settled in what is now LaGrange.  When he spent time in Congress, he was known as the “War Horse of Troup,” as in Troup County, a one-time Creek Indian stronghold.

It developed that J. C. Alford overheard Gen. Marquis de Lafayette, who helped George Washington win the Revolutionary War, remark that the topography of the Troup area was like the country estate of his wife near Paris, which was named LaGrange. Now, you know the rest of the story.

This was once a textile bastion near the Chattahoochee River which formed the boundary with the state of Alabama. They play good high school football here. I still recall the days of the colorful Oliver Hunnicutt, a coach who could have made it as a standup comedian and remember the year he won a state championship with a quarterback named Dusty Mills who stood 5-6 and weighed 134 pounds. 

Lamar Dodd, UGA’s preeminent artist, grew up here and so did Carla Green Williams, athletic director at the University of Virginia.  You can find the world’s oldest bale of cotton at the Legacy Museum. In the warm weather months, you can take a break in Lafayette Square and enjoy the statue of the ole French general and the fountain which makes it one of the most becoming squares in the state — this side of Savannah.

The Lamar Dodd Art Center at LaGrange College enables visitors to enjoy a classic cultural experience, and if you find your way to Shadowlawn Cemetery, you can locate the grave of Robert Oliver Hood.

If you are flummoxed by that name, chances are you are indirectly connected with this man and the lyrics of a song which the late Mr. Hood wrote.

Hood was an accomplished country music singer and song writer.  He wrote the lyrics to, “You Are My Sunshine.” I bet you can sing the lyrics to that popular tune which Hood, historians say, began singing as far back as 1933.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,

“You make me happy when skies are gray,

“You’ll never know dear how much I love you,

“Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

The late George Jones, the country star, who was said to have the greatest voice in country music, once proclaimed that “You Are My Sunshine” was the most perfect song ever written and is considered the third best-known song in the world following “Happy Birthday” and “White Christmas.”

All that is good news, but there is debilitating bad news when it comes to Hood’s memorable song. He did not copyright the song until someone else had done it fist. When Hood got around to getting his song copyrighted, Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell had already beaten him to the punch.

“You Are My Sunshine” is one of the official state songs of Louisiana.  Jimmie Davis went on to become governor of the Pelican State. Davis used the song in his election campaigns.

The Internet confirms that the song has been recorded by over 350 artists and has been translated into 30 languages. It was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. The Recording Industry association of America named it one of the Songs of the Century.

It is interesting that the Pine Ridge Boys recorded the song on August 22, 1939, and released it on October 6, 1939. It was recorded in Atlanta and no songwriter was listed.

Singers and songwriters in the thirties and prior were not so concerned about copyrights, they were just enjoying music and were happy to make their listeners appreciate their talent. If that was not the case with Robert Oliver Hood, that certainly is how it turned out.