Bobby Hebb, a musician and songwriter whose 1966 hit “Sunny” about a smiling girl became a pop music classic, died Tuesday of lung cancer at a Nashville hospital. He was 72.
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 Harold outside a Nashville nightclub and to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy a few days before.
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 vocals at Bell Sound in New York.
At the height of the song’s popularity, Hebb toured with the Beatles in the United States.
In 1971, Lou Rawls won a Grammy award for “A Natural Man,” written by Hebb and Sandy Baron.
As recently as 2007, Hebb was still writing songs and had his own publishing company and record label, Hebb Cats.
Hebb was born in 1938 to blind parents who were gospel-singing musicians. Raised in Nashville, Hebb became one of the first black musicians to perform on the Grand Ole Opry show in the 1950s. He also played spoons and danced with Roy Acuff’s country band, the Smoky Mountain Boys.
In 1955 he joined the Navy and played trumpet in a military jazz band. He also played guitar, piano and percussion.
Survivors include a daughter and four sisters.