Delta Dawn

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"Delta Dawn"
side-A label
One of side-A labels of the US single
Single by Tanya Tucker
from the album Delta Dawn
B-side"I Love the Way He Loves Me"
ReleasedApril 10, 1972
RecordedMarch 17, 1972
StudioColumbia Recording Studio (Nashville)
Producer(s)Billy Sherrill
Tanya Tucker singles chronology
"Delta Dawn"
"Love's the Answer/The Jamestown Ferry"

"Delta Dawn" is a song written by musician Larry Collins and country songwriter Alex Harvey.[a] The first notable recording of the song was in 1971 by American singer and actress Bette Midler for her debut album. However it is best known as a 1972 top ten country hit for Tanya Tucker[1] and a 1973 US number one hit for Helen Reddy.


The title character is a faded former Southern belle from Brownsville, Tennessee, who, at 41, is obsessed to unreason with the long-ago memory of a suitor who jilted her. The lyrics describe how the woman regularly "walks downtown with a suitcase in her hand / looking for a mysterious dark haired man" who she says will be taking her "to his mansion in the sky."

Reddy's recording in particular includes choir-like inspirational overtones.

The song's writing[edit]

Alex Harvey said he wrote the song about his mother:

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.

Ten years before Harvey wrote the song, he was performing on TV and told his mother not to come, lest she get drunk and embarrass him. That night she died in a car crash, and Harvey believed it was suicide caused by his rejection.[2]

For years Harvey suffered from guilt over the incident, until a cathartic incident the night he wrote the song. He was at fellow songwriter Larry Collins' house, who was asleep while Harvey noodled around on his guitar. He believed his mother then came to him in a vision:

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...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.[3]

After writing the first few lines of the song, Harvey woke Collins and they finished it together.

Recording history[edit]

The first recording of "Delta Dawn" was made by Harvey for his eponymous album released in November 1971. Harvey had performed as the opening act for Helen Reddy at the Troubadour, in January 1972, but at that time Reddy (who also was signed with the Capitol Records label) made no connection with any of Harvey's compositions.[4]

Dianne Davidson sang backup for Harvey's recording. She was the first singer after Harvey to record the song and chart in 1971–1972.[citation needed]

Tracy Nelson also sang backup on Harvey's recording, and performed "Delta Dawn" in her live act.[citation needed]

Bette Midler[edit]

After hearing Tracy Nelson sing "Delta Dawn" at the Bottom Line in New York City, Bette Midler added the song to her repertoire.[citation needed]

During the time Tanya Tucker’s and Helen Reddy’s recordings of the song were being produced (see below), Bette Midler recorded "Delta Dawn" for her The Divine Miss M debut album, for which her bluesy version was planned as the lead single. Reddy's single was released June 1973, two days after Midler's. The preemption required a marketing change for Midler, so the original B-side "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" was shopped to radio, itself becoming a top ten hit.

Tanya Tucker[edit]

Before Bette Midler's recording, Nashville-based producer Billy Sherrill heard her sing "Delta Dawn" on The Tonight Show and wanted to sign Midler to Epic Records and have her record it. Upon finding that Midler already signed with Atlantic Records, Sherrill cut the song with Tanya Tucker, who was newly signed to Epic, and Tucker's version was released in April 1972; it reached number six Country that spring.[5]

While Harvey's original version started with the first verse, Sherrill suggested starting with the chorus instead, done a cappella – a term unknown to 13-year-old Tucker.[3] This distinction became a signature of her version.

Helen Reddy[edit]

"Delta Dawn"
vinyl label
One of US reissues
Single by Helen Reddy
from the album Long Hard Climb
B-side"If We Could Still be Friends"
ReleasedJune 1973[6]
Songwriter(s)Larry Collins, Alex Harvey
Producer(s)Tom Catalano
Helen Reddy singles chronology
"Delta Dawn"
"Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)"

Record producer Tom Catalano created an instrumental track of "Delta Dawn." Catalano first offered the vocal track to Barbra Streisand, but she refused; after this he gave the vocal to Reddy.[8]

Reddy's version, which added upward modulation to Tucker's cold intro and nonstop vocals throughout, entered the top ten on 18 August 1973, on its way to its lone week at number one on the main Billboard Hot 100 chart, on 15 September 1973. It remained in the top 10 for eight weeks,[9] and was ranked as the No. 14 song for 1973 according to Billboard. "Delta Dawn" was also the first of Reddy's six consecutive — and eight overall — number one hits on the Billboard Easy Listening chart.[10] The song also topped the Cash Box chart on 8 September 1973, remaining at number one for two weeks.[11]

Reddy had reached number two with both "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "I Am Woman" in her native Australia; "Delta Dawn" became her first number one hit there, spending five weeks at the top of the Kent Music Report in August and September 1973.[12] "Delta Dawn" also marked Reddy's only chart appearance in South Africa, reaching number 13 in the autumn of 1973.[13]

Other recordings[edit]

Chart performance[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Tanya Tucker version[edit]

Chart (1972) Peak
US Billboard Hot 100[15] 72
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[16] 6
Canadian RPM Country Tracks 3

Helen Reddy version[edit]


Certifications for the Helen Reddy version
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[27] Gold 50,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[28] Gold 10,000*

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Use in popular media[edit]


  1. ^ Harvey more often went by the name Alexander Harvey in later years, to avoid being confused with Glaswegian rocker Alex Harvey.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 357.
  2. ^ Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music: The Inspirational Stories behind 101 of Your Favorite Country Songs by Jack Canfield — ISBN 978-1935096672
  3. ^ a b "Delta Dawn by Helen Reddy". Retrieved 7 October 2023.
  4. ^ "(unknown)". Billboard. Vol. 84, no. 2. 8 January 1972. p. 12.
  5. ^ Tucker, Tanya (1997). Nickel Dreams: My life (Large print ed.). Waterville, Maine: Thorndike Press. p. 132. ISBN 0-7862-1182-2.
  6. ^ "Discography". Billboard. Vol. 86, no. 31. 3 August 1974. p. 52. ISSN 0006-2510.
  7. ^ Breihan, Tom (April 19, 2019). "The Number Ones: Helen Reddy's "Delta Dawn"". Stereogum. Retrieved January 21, 2023.
  8. ^ Tucker, Tanya (1997). Nickel Dreams: my life (Large print ed.). Waterville, Maine: Thorndike Press. p. 178. ISBN 0-7862-1182-2.
  9. ^ "All US Top 40 Singles For 1973". Billboard.
  10. ^ Hyatt, Wesley (1999). The Billboard Book of Number One Adult Contemporary Hits. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications. p. 126. ISBN 0-8230-7693-8.
  11. ^ "Cash Box Top Singles - 1973". Retrieved 7 October 2023.
  12. ^ a b "Australian Weekly Single Ccharts (David Kent) for 1973". Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  13. ^ a b "SA Charts 1965 - 1989 Acts R". South African Rock Lists. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  14. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 117. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  15. ^ "Tanya Tucker Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  16. ^ "Tanya Tucker Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  17. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". 2012-03-30. Retrieved 2018-02-19.
  18. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". 1973-09-29. Retrieved 2018-02-19.
  19. ^ "Flavour of New Zealand, 27 August 1973". Archived from the original on 10 May 2017. Retrieved 7 October 2023.
  20. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  21. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 Singles, September 15, 1973". Archived from the original on June 9, 2015. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  22. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. Australian Chart Book, St Ives, N.S.W. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  23. ^ Canada, Library and Archives (December 26, 2017). "Image : RPM Weekly". Library and Archives Canada.
  24. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1973/Top 100 Songs of 1973".
  25. ^ "Billboard Year-End Charts 1973" (PDF).
  26. ^ "Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 29, 1973". Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  27. ^ "Cash Box Magazine" (PDF). Cash Box. 23 March 1974. p. 51. Retrieved 15 November 2021 – via World Radio History.
  28. ^ "Gold from Down Under" (PDF). Cash Box. 22 November 1975. p. unknown. Retrieved 15 November 2021 – via World Radio History.

External links[edit]