This soul standard speaks of an uplifting love that brings comfort through the pain. Unlike many songs with this message, "Sunny" is very ambiguous - it could apply to a man, woman, parent, child, lover or friend. It could even be about God, as some have speculated.
Bobby Hebb never attributed a specific inspiration for the song, but the death of his brother, Hal Hebb (also a musician), on November 23, 1963 - the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated - was a formative event in his life. He explained that the song brought him balance and hope for a brighter future - a message that connected with many listeners.
In 2006, an electronic group called Torpedo Boyz released a song called "Trust, Integrity & Pure Love"
in which they included audio of Hebb describing the genesis of this song, which he attributed to a flash of inspiration. Said Hebb: "I was working at Brandy's, a bar and restaurant in New York City on 84th close to Second Avenue. I was under the influence of Tennessee Sipping Whiskey, highly under the influence. As a matter of fact I was so under the influence that I was afraid to try to go to sleep. And I looked up and I saw a purple sky. I had my guitar in my hand, and without touching a pencil, I started writing it. And that's how the song was born. I hit the nail right on the head."
Hebb recorded this with producer Joe Renzetti, who used a number of New York studio musicians to serve as the backing band. The team of Ashford & Simpson (Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson) sang backup along with Melba Moore.
Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and hundreds of other artists have covered this song. Cher recorded it in the '60s as a tribute to her partner, Sonny Bono. Hebb's original though, is the only version to chart in America. Across Europe, a 1976 dance version by Boney M. was a huge hit, going to #3 UK and #1 in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
Hebb died in 2010 at age 72. The Associated Press also reported that he became one of the first black artists ever to appear on the Grand Ole Opry. At the time of Hebb's death, "Sunny" was listed as the 18th most performed song in the BMI catalog.
This has been used in commercials for McDonald's, T J Maxx, Volkswagon, Indeed and a number of other companies looking for an uplifting songs to associate with their product.
Hebb opened for The Beatles on their last tour, which took place in America and ran from August 12-29, 1966. "Sunny" was hot on the charts at the time, peaking at #2 on August 20. The last show was in San Francisco, where Hebb somewhat ironically performed "Sunny" on a typically foggy evening.
Among the artists to cover this song are Classics IV, who released their version in 1969. A year earlier, they had a hit with "Stormy
," which seemed like an answer song to "Sunny."
The album cover was a photo of a beautiful woman, encouraging the interpretation that Sunny was a girl.
In a sign of this song's lasting appeal, Billie Eilish and her brother, Finneas, performed it for the One World: Together At Home Concert during the coronavirus pandemic. The virtual concert, which also featured Lady Gaga, John Legend, Stevie Wonder, Elton John and several other stars, was broadcast on April 18, 2020. "I love this song," Eilish said in introducing it. "It's always warmed by heart and made me feel good, and I want to make you guys feel good."