Interestingly, one of my very earliest memories involves a song about bluebirds. In the summer of 1990, when I was four and a half, my mom, my brother, and I took an Amtrak train from Vermont to Alabama, to visit relatives. You would think that my first train ride would be exciting enough to stick in my head, but, no, the only part I remember clearly is this little vignette: standing in the train bathroom (my mom must have been nearby, but I was old enough to go in by myself), feeling very pretty in my favorite outfit (a matching set of bright floral leggings and babydoll top) and proudly practicing singing the bluebird song. Why? I have no idea! And why do I still remember this? I am utterly at a loss. Yet, this particular memory sticks out as a true one because I was alone—no stories passed on by adults and no video-recorded evidence (unfortunately?)!
The song is one that I grew up with, both hearing my mom sing it, and hearing the recording by John McCutcheon. As far as I can tell, it is a song that Jean Ritchie wrote based off of an actual experience (if you click the link; scroll down quite a ways, to a comment) that she had as a young girl—about the same age that I was when I learned the song. It’s a sweet story of a girl spotting a flock of bluebirds and counting them based off of a rhyme; each number portending a different “fortune,” ranging from sadness or joy, to silver or gold, to true love. I have always loved the song, and I look forward to sharing it with my own kids some day.
The (original) Jean Ritchie version:
With their gorgeous iridescent blue feathers and their link to happiness (hmmm, that would be another good topic for a blog post—stay tuned!), it’s no surprise that bluebirds are the subject of several other songs–they’re clearly a timeless source of inspiration.
Cole Porter’s 1934 Broadway hit Anything Goes features the song Be Like the Bluebird, sung by one by one jailed character to another, in hopes of bringing some cheer to the situation:
Bonnie Raitt’s Bluebird, from her 1971, self-titled debut album is upbeat and fun:
Paul McCartney and Wings’ Bluebird from their 1973 album Band on the Run is so very 1970s, from Paul’s mullet to the lyrics, but it’s a nice easy-listening song:
Nellie McKay’s Bluebird is the last track on her 2010 album Home Sweet Mobile Home. This video, in which she plays her song for a radio station, is a fantastically incongruous mix of watching her pluck a ukulele with refreshingly unkempt hair and a bright, funky outfit, and hearing her sing with voice and sweetly melancholy lyrics both nodding to a time many decades ago…I think she’s just great:
Mark Knopfler’s Bluebird, from his 2012 album Privateering is gruff and bluesy, but somehow still feels friendly and familiar (despite all of the warnings for bluebird to fly off to a different farm…):