Delta Dawn

Album: Greatest Hits (1973)
Charted: 1

Songfacts®:

  • This was written by the country performers Alexander Harvey (not to be confused with the Scottish musician of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band) and Larry Collins in 1972. Tracy Nelson (who sang backup on the original) and Bette Midler put the song in their live repertoire before it became a country hit for Tanya Tucker.
  • Barbra Streisand passed on the song after the backing track had been recorded by her producer without her prior knowledge.
  • Bette Midler's "Delta Dawn" single was scheduled for release, but Capitol Records beat Midler (and Atlantic Records) by releasing Reddy's single two days before Midler's release date. This prompted the bigwigs of Atlantic to flip the record and push the former B-side, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B)" instead. At the last minute, "Delta Dawn" was dropped from the 45 and replaced by "Superstar," which became a hit for the Carpenters. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Brad Wind - Miami, FL, for all above
  • This song is about a faded Southern belle whose reputation was tarnished when she hooked up with a man of ill-repute. Now 41-years-old, she wanders the streets of Brownsville, Tennessee, in search of her lost lover.

    In the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music, Harvey says the tune is really about his mother, a heavy drinker who died in an apparent suicide by crashing into a tree when the songwriter was a teen. Harvey had just returned from a TV gig with his band; he had asked his mother not to go, worried she would embarrass him by drinking too much and making a spectacle. The guilt over his mother's death stuck with him for years. A decade later, he was hanging out at Larry Collins' house with a group of country musicians. Everyone fell asleep except for Harvey, who stayed up strumming his guitar. That's when he saw his mother.

    "I looked up and I felt as if my mother was in the room. I saw her very clearly. She was in a rocking chair and she was laughing," he recalled. "My mother had come from the Mississippi Delta and she always lived her life as if she had a suitcase in her hand but nowhere to put it down. She was a hairdresser in Brownsville. She was very free-spirited, and folks in a small town don't always understand people like that. She never really grew up."

    After coming up with the line, "She's 41 and her daddy still calls her 'baby.' All the folks 'round Brownsville say she's crazy," he woke up Collins and the pair finished the song within 20 minutes.
  • Writing the song was a cathartic experience for Harvey, who was finally able to let go of the guilt he carried since his mother died. "I really believe that my mother didn't come into the room that night to scare me, but to tell me, 'It's okay,' and that she had made her choices in life and it had nothing to do with me. I always felt like that song was a gift to my mother and an apology to her. It was also a way to say 'thank you' to my mother for all she did."
  • Tanya Tucker, who was only 13 years old when she recorded her throaty rendition, proved she could handle mature subject matter at a young age. Her producer, Billy Sherrill, heard Bette Midler sing it on The Tonight Show and thought it would be ideal for Epic's latest acquisition. In a 2016 interview, Tucker recalled when Sherrill brought her the song. "He played me the demo of Alex Harvey, who wrote the song, playing guitar and singing 'Delta Dawn.' He started singing, 'she's 41'..., he didn't start out with the chorus. I said, 'That's my song, that's it.' So Billy said, 'Let's get a key' So we went to the piano. Billy said, 'Let's start with the chorus.' 'Ok, I know what the chorus was.' Then he said, 'In fact, lets do it a cappella.' I said, 'A cappella, what's a cappella?'" she laughed. "Well the session was supposed to start at 10 o'clock but I didn't wake up till around noon. He finally got me up. We had The Nashville Edition and the Jordanaires sing backup. We did it 'live,' with the musicians and everything."
  • This earned Tucker her first Grammy nomination for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. She lost to Donna Fargo for "The Happiest Girl In The Whole USA," the song Sherrill originally wanted her to record before "Delta Dawn" caught his attention.
  • "Delta Dawn" was the second of three US #1 hits for the Australian Helen Reddy, following "I Am Woman" and preceding "Angie Baby."
  • Courteney Cox sang this on Friends in the 2003 episode "The One Where Monica Sings."

Comments: 25

  • Tess W from Cloverdale, California My (ex)sister in laws name is 'Della'...so we'd call her 'Delta Dawn'...love that song
  • Chris from Charlotte N.c.Could you add more songs from Tanya Tucker under the headings? Her's is equally well know as Reddy's
  • Chris from Charlotte N.c.You failed to mention that Alex Harvey (US Singer) HIMSELF was the first to record the song as the closing track on his 1971 self titled LP. Backing vocals are Dianne Davidson and Tracy Nelson
    Here is that original version by Harvey https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g3I6oVLecg
    Also to me, Tanya Tucker's recording is more familiar than Reddy's
  • Delta Dawn Lynch from Pennsylvaniahttp://www.chickensoup.com/book-story/23552/13-delta-dawn
  • Delta Dawn Lynch from PennsylvaniaInteresting reading about my name! Was gogling myself and found this page. I was born in 1972 and named after the song.
  • Jbg from New York AreaTo Jim: David Alan Coe wrote "Field of Stones," a song Tanya Tucker made a hit out of in 1974. Last night, February 20, 2016 she segued from "Amazing Grace" into "Delta Dawn."
  • Laura from Nashville, TnActually, I saw Alex Harvey a couple of months ago at the Bluebird Cafe and he explained the TRUE inspiration for the song when he introduced it as his last song in the round. The song is not about Mary Magdalene or Rose Taylor MacKensie, but was in fact inspired by Harvey's own mother. She grew up in west TN (can't remember if it was actually Brownsville or not, but probably close by) and married Harvey's father who was from an upper class family. She was never truly accepted by her husband's family and struggled with depression. She committed suicide when Harvey was only a boy. It was a terribly tragic and moving story and makes me appreciate the song in an entirely new light.
  • Thom from Cary, NcThe song Delta Dawn was written by Alex Harvey of Brownsville TN, no relation to the Alex Harvey band. The song is about Rose Taylor MacKensie, (the faded rose from days gone by) a woman from Brownsville, TN. The lyrics are not about the modern day Mary Magdalene. Rose Taylor MacKensie is the mother of Melissa Taylor MacKensie who was my grade school teacher and a friend of my family. Rose was not treated properly by a man, left behind wondering, and the song chronicles some of those events and emotions. Delta Dawn comes from the area of West Tennessee which is loosely called "the Tennessee Delta". You can read into the lyrics from those facts. There is no plagiarism in that song from any other, just uninformed imaginations.
  • Marshall from Birmingham, MiTo Pat from San Antone: the reason the song sounds like "Amazing Grace" to you is that the chord progression of the chorus is identical in both songs through "days gone by," and then similar the rest of the way as well. I know you received some criticism for saying that, but well spotted. Chord progressions are almost never unique to one pop song, but still and all, you are right: the chords for "Amazing Grace" are similar to those of "Delta Dawn."
  • Trish from Sachse, TxPlanning a surprise 40th for my daughter. This will be part of her early years of music. When she was 2 1/2 and we were driving down the road she would sing this song, over and over and over. She loved it.
  • Lacy from Manhattan, KsI understand the comparison between Delta Dawn and Amazing Grace. Correct me if I am wrong but I'm pretty sure Deb did not mean that they sounded similar. She was talking about the lyrics and the meaning of the songs. They both have Christian symbolism and refer to Mary Magdeline. When you "disect" a song's lyrics and really pay attention, you can learn to appreciate music on such a deeper level.
  • Deb from Nowhere Speacial, AzAmazing Grace and Delta Dawn are both about spiritual beliefs. You'd have to understand the song "Delta Dawn" in entirety and with an open mind.The song is full of symbolism. Let's break it down shall we?

    "Delta Dawn".. is a fictional name for a modern day Mary Magdeline.
    "What's that flower you have on".. symbolic for what she is carrying i.e. wearning.
    "Could it be a faded rose from days gone by".. a rose is a christian symbol for the Christ child or Our Savior.
    "Faded Rose" means that story of Christ is presently aged. People are losing faith as seen through the coming up of many pegan religions which have distorted the facts. (this is a new meaning to an old story)
    "And did I hear ya say, he was a meetin' you here today".. Delta Dawn speaks of meeting christ in her lifetime, though, she's not sure when or how it will transpire. She gave birth to him not knowing who he really was. She's a visionary of sorts.
    "Top take you to his mansion in the sky".. and he will take her to heaven.
    "She's 41 and her daddy still calls her baby." This happens when she is 41 years old and living at home. (her father still treats her like a child)
    "All the folks round Brownsville say she's crazy".. her reputation in her town is that she is a little "off." But she isn't. She isnt much of a people person..lol.
    "Cuz she walks downtown with a suitcase in her hand." She flaunts that she's never in one place for long. A gypsi of sorts.
    "Looking for a mysterious dark-haired man." Waiting for a lost love (old flame) someone she remembers from long ago who said he would return for her.
    "In her younger days they called her Delta Dawn."
    Delta dawn is her fiction persona. She never allowed people to really know her. She was always pretending to be someone she wasn't.
    "Prettiest woman you ever laid eyes on".. some say she was very attractive.She was also very promiscuous when she was young.
    "Then a man of low degree stood by her side.Promised he he's take her for his bride." Because of this she attracted the wrong man. Very abusive i.e. low degree

    That be the story of delta dawn... Modern day Mary Magdeline.
  • Star from Middle Of Nowhere, CaI agree with Derek. It sounds nothing like Amazing Grace. It does sound like gospel a bit, but not Amazing Grace. It's most definitely not plagiarism! Seriously, try singing amazing grace while listening to Delta Dawn. I've been playing different instruments for the last 11 years, and I've played Amazing Grace on a few of them and it didn't once remind me of Delta Dawn.
    (posted 2-10-08)
  • Derek from Cambridge, New ZealandDavid, with all due respect, it's nothing like Amazing Grace!
  • Pat from San Antone, Txi was on you tube the other day and heard this song and i thought it reminded me alot of amazing grace.
  • David from Deerfield Beach, FlPosted on 11/1/2007. Though not necessarily a favorite of mine anymore, this song holds the special distinction for me personally as being the very first 45 r.p.m. single that I had ever gotten way back when I was a little boy. A collection of mine that eventually grew to over 1500, and this record was the very first one. That being beside the point, in recent years I've made an observation about this song. I don't know if this would count as a songfact or not, but remember how George Harrison lost a plagiarism case about the Chiffons's "He's So Fine" when he made his "My Sweet Lord" record? Despite the same chord progression the 2 songs sound very different & most probably wouldn't have noticed that it might've been plagiarized. Well, I see no reference or credit anywhere to this about "Delta Dawn", but I noticed that the chord progression for the chorus sounds suspiciously like that of the beautiful traditional classic, "Amazing Grace"! Listen carefully, I really think it's true. I believe the writers of this song borrowed from "Amazing Grace" and never gave due credit for it. Although, I thought I heard somewhere that there is some statute of limitation of like 75 years or something regarding royalties perhaps, so it probably wouldn't matter anyway cuz the song is so old. But I was wondering, has anybody else out there ever made this same observation? If so, has anybody ever heard anything about "Delta Dawn" borrowing from or giving credit to "Amazing Grace"?
  • John from Gainesville, VaDelta Dawn was written by A. Harvey and L. Collins (United Artists Music Co., inc/Big Ax Music/ASCAP
  • Darrell from EugeneAlthough Helen Reddy originally recorded this song, I believe that Buford Wilson from the Tanya Tucker hit "What's Your Mama's Name" is the "mysterious dark-haired man" from this song. If anyone knows otherwise, please leave me a comment so that myself and others can know about it.
  • Naomi from River Fa;;s, WiI'm 21, and whenever I put this song on from my ipod, I listen to it over and over, it touches me!
  • Ekristheh from Halath, United StatesReddy's "Ruby Red Dress (Leave Me Alone)" which has a similar theme was released in June 1973 and was still receiving a fair amount of airplay when this came out in November. Reddy seems to have been interested in legends of abandoned women. Anais Nin wrote of one that she actually met in Paris near the Seine River in the 1930s. The woman explained that she always sat on the same bench because her man had said "Wait here, I'll come back." Nin asked a police officer, who said the woman had been waiting there for thirty years.
  • Ray from Laughlin, NvDelta Dawn was written by Alex Harvey and Larry Collins. They received a Grammy nomination for it. Larry Collins was half of the duo "The Collins Kids" with his sister Lorrie in the 1950's. It was a great rockabilly act and they recorded for Columbia.
  • Jim from Columbia, TnSong was written by Alex Harvey, not David Allen Coe. Written in early 70's.
  • Jean from Moorestown, Nc"Country Standard Time" site says Larry Collins wrote "Delta Dawn" and it was probably before Tanya Tucker was born.
  • Jean from Moorestown, NcDoes anyone know who is singing bass on "Delta Dawn"?
  • Jim from Oly, WaIf I'm not mistaken and correct me if I'm wrong but David Allen Coe wrote this song and it was originally recorded by Tanya Tucker.
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