NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bobby Hebb, whose 1966 pop music classic “Sunny” described a sincere smile from a woman that lifted the singer’s burdens, died Tuesday. He was 72.
Family members and a funeral home spokeswoman said Hebb died at Centennial Medical Center. Friends said he had lung cancer.
“Sunny” also was recorded by many other singers, including Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett and Jose Feliciano.
The song’s key lines:
“Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain.
“Sunny, you smiled at me and really eased the pain.
“The dark days are gone and the bright days are here.
“My sunny one shines so sincere.
“Sunny one so true, I love you.”
Hebb had said in several interviews that he wrote “Sunny” in response to the slaying of his brother outside a Nashville nightclub and to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy a few days before.
On his 69th birthday in 2007, he recalled that he was living and performing in New York City at the time he wrote the song.
“I was intoxicated,” Hebb told The Associated Press. “I came home and started playing the guitar. I looked up and saw what looked like a purple sky. I started writing because I’d never seen that before.”
He included the song in his act at a bar called Brandy’s and the audience liked it.
After a Japanese artist had a hit with the song in Asia and vibraphone player Dave Pike recorded it in the United States, Hebb recorded the vocal at Bell Sound in New York.
At the height of “Sunny” popularity, Hebb toured with the Beatles.
In a 2004 interview with The Tennessean newspaper, Hebb recalled that all four Beatles were nice.
“John (Lennon) and George (Harrison) were very quiet,” he said. “But Ringo (Starr) and Paul (McCartney) were more active and easier to get to know. It was just something to be with those cats.”
In 1971, Lou Rawls won a Grammy award for “A Natural Man,” written by Hebb and Sandy Baron. In 2004, Broadcast Music Incorporated honored Hebb for 6 million airings of “Sunny.”
As recently as 2007, Hebb was still writing songs and had his own publishing company and record label, Hebb Cats.
Hebb was born to blind parents and raised in Nashville. He joined the Navy in 1955 where he played the trumpet in a jazz band.
In the 1950s Hebb also played and danced with Roy Acuff’s country band, the Smoky Mountain Boys, and became one of the first black musicians to perform on the Grand Ole Opry show in Nashville.
Funeral services were pending. Survivors include a daughter and four sisters.