Era Inducted To: Radio Era
Lyricist(s):(Carmen) Elizabeth Clarke Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1911 Vancouver, British Columbia, July, 1960
Composer(s):(Carmen) Elizabeth Clarke Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1911 Vancouver, British Columbia, July, 1960
The first song by a Canadian to sell more than one million copies was born out of a simple, beautiful moment in the life of an ailing child. (There’s a) Bluebird on Your Windowsill was written by Vancouver nurse (Carmen) Elizabeth Clarke in 1947, who worked at what was then called the Hospital for Sick and Crippled Children (now the Children’s Hospital) in Vancouver.
One of Clarke’s little patients was a young boy who had one day been visited by a feathery caller, a sparrow, which had perched on the windowsill next to his bed. Clarke was inspired to sit down on the evening of that rainy day and write a poem about this bird, capturing her patient’s charming encounter with a paper and pen, completing it in six hours’ time. A melody was added to the words soon after.
Clarke sang (There’s a) Bluebird on Your Windowsill to her patients regularly. After being convinced by her friends and coworkers that it was a great tune, she sang the song on radio station CKNW, and declared to journalist Les Wedman in an interview on November 7, 1949, “I didn’t intend to write it – it just came.” She added that it made her want to cry every time she heard it. “After requests began pouring in, I got the idea the people really wanted it.” Her colleagues and patients at the hospital began to call it “our song” as its popularity grew.
Jean Gould, public relations director of the hospital at the time, recalled years later that Clarke was “… always interested in music and writing. I would say she was a real artiste. And she was very fond of the children.”
The Rhythm Pals, a country music trio from New Westminster, B.C., who made their debut on CKNW, recorded a version of Clarke’s song in 1948, thus putting it on regular radio rotation locally. They were the new, hot group at the time; three decades later, they included the song on their 30th anniversary album in 1977.
The song was published in 1948 by Empire Music in New Westminster. Aragon records in Vancouver made a record of Don Murphy’s version that same year. Clarke used $600 of her own money to finance the production of the single – a humble beginning for a song that would become an enormous country music hit one year later.
(There’s a) Bluebird on Your Windowsill spread throughout Canada and into the United States as numerous artists began to record the song. The father of Canadian country music, Wilf Carter, released his version in 1949. American Western musician Tex Williams recorded and released the song as a single in 1949. His version became an instant hit south of the border, making it to #11 on the U.S. Billboard charts. Doris Day also recorded it as a single that same year with the George Siravo orchestra, and her jazzy version made it to #19 on Billboard. Bing Crosby followed suit and recorded (There’s a) Bluebird on Your Windowsill around the same time.
The song’s benevolent origins were never lost on its fans, even after it became a mainstream hit. The March of Dimes chose (There’s a) Bluebird on Your Windowsill as the theme song for their national fundraising campaign in 1950. The young Clarke, who was merely 38 years old when her little poem turned into an enormous sensation, made the incredibly generous decision to turn over all royalties from (There’s a) Bluebird on Your Windowsill to children’s hospitals across Canada, where they continue to go today.
Elizabeth Clarke continued her work as a dedicated nurse and even wrote a few other songs after (There’s a) Bluebird on Your Windowsill. She passed away in July 1960, in Vancouver, at age 49.
The song was revived in Sandy Wilson’s 1985 seven-time Genie award-winning Canadian feature film, “My American Cousin,” starring Margaret Langrick. The all-female Canadian jazz ensemble, Mother of Pearl, perform (There’s a) Bluebird on Your Windowsill regularly on tour. The band paid tribute to Clarke by including a rendition of her song on their 2002 jazz compilation album entitled “sheBOP! A Century of Jazz Compositions by Canadian Women,” keeping the lovely tune, and the moving story behind it, alive.
Cover artists include: Dala, Wilf Carter, Don Murphy, The Rhythm Pals, Bing Crosby, Kenny Roberts, Mother of Pearl, Freddy Williams, Freddy Martin, Ralph Flanagan, Charles Kunz, Carmen Cavallaro, Doris Day and the George Siravo Orchestra, Tex Williams, Audry Williams and The Andrews Sisters.