Influential R&B songwriter and vocalist Bobby Hebb has died. He was 72.
The Nashville native wrote and recorded “Sunny,” a soaring groove that remains perennially hummable, even by generations born decades after its original release. The tune was covered by James Brown, Frank Sinatra, Eddy Arnold, Dusty Springfield, Stevie Wonder, the Ventures, Ella Fitzgerald, Booker T. & the MGs, the Four Tops, Wes Montgomery, Cher, the Lettermen, and many more. From 1966 to 1971, “Sunny” earned a rare six consecutive BMI Pop Awards, as well as a BMI R&B Award in 1971. The classic has generated more than 7 million performances.
“Bobby Hebb was a gentleman songwriter and Nashville treasure,” said BMI’s Jody Williams. “He brought the world one of BMI’s all-time most-performed songs and a bonafide entry into the great American Songbook.”
He first turned heads as a skilled guitarist, playing with frontmen including Roscoe Shelton and John Lee Hooker. Hebb inimitably cross-pollinated country and R&B worlds. A successful recording artist in the 1960s, he climbed charts with his versions of “A Satisfied Mind” and “Love Me” in addition to his signature hit. Hebb also co-wrote “A Natural Man,” which Lou Rawls recorded to Grammy-winning effect. He toured with Jimmy Page & The Yardbirds, Brian Hyland, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, and more. In 2004, Hebb was featured in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s acclaimed Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues 1945–1970 exhibit.
“‘Sunny’ is one of the mammoth songs in pop music history,” exhibit curator Michael Gray told The Tennessean. “But beyond that, Bobby’s is one of the most interesting musical stories I’ve ever heard. He represented the multi-racial musical milieu of 1960s Nashville better than anyone else.”