Tanya Tucker Sings “Delta Dawn” In 1973
Tanya Tucker sings her hit song, “Delta Dawn,” on the show HeeHaw in 1973.
Tanya Tucker quickly gained popularity at just 13 years old following the release of her hit song “Delta Dawn.” While this well-known song never earned a #1 spot on the charts, she made it to #1 the following year with “What’s Your Mama’s Name.” Becoming so popular that it even showed up on the pop charts, “What’s Your Mama’s Name” may have never been as successful as it was if it wasn’t for “Delta Dawn” paving the way in Tucker’s music career. Tanya went on to earn nine more #1 hits (bringing her total to an impressive ten) and dozens of Top 10 and Top 40 hits.
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The story behind the lyrics.
Written by Alex Harvey and Larry Collins, this song has a bittersweet story behind the lyrics. Harvey reveals a lot of backstory from the song in the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music. He shares details about his late mother and how she was very misunderstood in their small town of Brownsville, Tennessee. He described her as a free spirit, almost childlike.
“When I was fifteen years old, I was in a band,” he states in the book. “We had just won a contest and we were going to be on a TV show in Jackson, Tennessee … My mother said she wanted to go. I told her that I thought she would embarrass me. She drank and sometimes would do things that would make me feel ashamed, so I asked her not to go that night.”
When Harvey got home from his gig, he found his mother had passed away in a vehicle accident when she crashed her car into a tree. Harvey suspected this was suicide leading to a great deal of guilt the 15-year-old had to cope with.
He used music as an outlet for the grief he endured following his mother’s death.
“For me, it was a form of therapy,” he said. “That was the only way I could work it out.”
Years later, Harvey was at Larry Collins’ house with a group of other musicians. Everyone had fallen asleep leaving Harvey awake by himself—just him and his guitar.
“I looked up and I felt as if my mother was in the room,” he recalled. “I saw her very clearly. She was in a rocking chair and she was laughing.” In that moment, these lyrics came to him: “She forty-one and her daddy still calls her, ‘baby’, All the folks around Brownsville say she’s crazy.”
After waking Collins and telling him those lyrics, the duo completed the song in 20 minutes.
Harvey credits that moment for releasing the guilt he had over his mother’s death.
He stated, “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.”
I’m not crying, you’re crying! Who knew this song had such an emotional story?
Watch young Tanya Tucker sing “Delta Dawn” in the video below.