Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair
|"Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair"|
Original sheet music cover
"Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair" is a parlor song by Stephen Foster (1826–1864). It was published by Firth, Pond & Co. of New York in 1854. Foster wrote the song with his estranged wife Jane McDowell in mind. The lyrics allude to a permanent separation.
"Jeanie" was a notorious beneficiary of the ASCAP boycott of 1941. During this period, most modern music could not be played by the major radio broadcasters due to a dispute over licensing fees. The broadcasters used public-domain songs during this period, and according to a 1941 article in Time magazine, "So often had BMI's Jeannie [sic] With the Light Brown Hair been played that she was widely reported to have turned grey."
In 1850, Stephen Foster married Jane Denny McDowell, whose nickname was "Jennie." The marriage was short-lived, however, as the pair suffered numerous conflicts and ultimately separated in 1853. Perhaps in an attempt to win back his wife, Foster composed "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair" in 1854. The opening texts of each stanza support the speculation that the song was written with Jane in mind: "I dream of Jeanie" (verse one); "I long for Jeanie" (verse two); and "I sigh for Jeanie" (verse three).
Although the song remains one of Foster's most beloved parlor ballads, it was not commercially successful. It was virtually unknown during its time and the initial ten thousand copies sold earned Foster only just over $200 in royalties. Foster, who experienced financial difficulty through most of his career, had to sell the rights to "Jeanie" (as well as other songs, including "Old Folks at Home") to make ends meet. After his death, the rights to "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair" reverted to Jane, and then to Foster's daughter Marion in 1879.
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I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair,
Borne, like a vapor, on the summer air;
I see her tripping where the bright streams play,
Happy as the daisies that dance on her way.
Many were the wild notes her merry voice would pour.
Many were the blithe birds that warbled them o'er:
Oh! I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair,
Floating, like a vapor, on the soft summer air.
I long for Jeanie with the daydawn smile,
Radiant in gladness, warm with winning guile;
I hear her melodies, like joys gone by,
Sighing round my heart o'er the fond hopes that die:—
Sighing like the night wind and sobbing like the rain,—
Wailing for the lost one that comes not again:
Oh! I long for Jeanie, and my heart bows low,
Never more to find her where the bright waters flow.
I sigh for Jeanie, but her light form strayed
Far from the fond hearts round her native glade;
Her smiles have vanished and her sweet songs flown,
Flitting like the dreams that have cheered us and gone.
Now the nodding wild flowers may wither on the shore
While her gentle fingers will cull them no more:
Oh! I sigh for Jeanie with the light brown hair,
Floating, like a vapor, on the soft summer air.
Violinist Jascha Heifetz transcribed the song for the violin and it became a signature piece for him for years. The transcription has been performed by many subsequent violinists.
The song's ubiquitous airplay in the 1940s led Spike Jones to create a parody, called "I Dream of Brownie with the Light Blue Jeans." In the song, it turns out that "Brownie" is a wire-haired terrier. The instrumental interlude contains a number of references to other Stephen Foster songs.
The 1960 Bugs Bunny short From Hare To Heir, in which Bugs Bunny continually tries to provoke Yosemite Sam into losing his temper, features Bugs' version "I dream of Jeanie, she's a light brown hare..." His version also appears in the cartoon Apes of Wrath.
Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble sang a version of the song in an episode of The Flintstones titled, "The House Guests", which originally aired on December 22, 1961. The lyrics they used were, "My bosom buddy and my lifelong pal.....lah dee dee dah.....". They were trying to prove to Wilma and Betty that they could get along together without fighting while the Rubbles were forced to live with the Flintstones for a week due a water main break in the Rubbles' house.
The character of Laura Petrie, while under the influence of prescription tranquilizers and wine, sings a version of the song in the Season 4 episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show entitled "Pink Pills and Purple Parents" (1964). The character, played by Mary Tyler Moore, sings the tune with the lyrics "I dream of Laura with the light brown hair, floating like a zeppelin on the summer air."
On The Alvin Show, David Seville, while courting a young woman, sang the song to her in a boat, much to the annoyance of Alvin and the Chipmunks, who retaliated with a silly and disrespectful spoof: "We dream of Jeanie with the green-purple hair/She looks so funny, people stop and stare..." which insults Dave's girlfriend and irritates Dave himself...and as penance the Chipmunks are forced to sing the song repeatedly with the correct lyrics until they know them by heart.
In popular culture
The opening line notably got used as the basis for the title of the TV series I Dream of Jeannie.
A few lines of the song's first stanza are sung loudly, a cappella, in the Band of Brothers episode "Bastogne" by soldiers Joseph Liebgott, James Alley and an unnamed soldier in a foxhole, shortly before being shelled by Nazi artillery.
The full title is used as the nickname for character Jeanie in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, most notably several times in the episode "The Cold Open".
- O'Connell, Joanne. "Understanding Stephen Collins Foster, His World and Music", ProQuest. March 23, 2007.
- "No Letup". Time Magazine. January 27, 1941.
- Sisario, Ben (September 20, 1998). "ON THE MAP; Stephen Foster's Old Hoboken Home". New York Times. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- Browne, Blaine T.; Cottrell, Robert C. (2010). Lives and Times: Individuals and Issues in American History: To 1877. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 115. ISBN 978-0742561922.
- "Pink Pills and Purple Parents" at IMDB