Era Inducted To: Radio Era
Lyricist(s):Gale Zoë Garnett
Composer(s):Gale Zoë Garnett
Gale Zoë Garnett’s breezy 1964 contemporary folk hit We’ll Sing in the Sunshine resonated a recurring theme throughout popular music of this period: a hope for a time when happiness and peace will abound. The song also presented an empowering message well before its time. The uncommon story – a free-spirited young woman offering the alluring promise of a year-long love affair with no strings attached – proved a winning formula.
Garnett wrote the hit song at age 14 for folksinger Hoyt Axton, who recorded it in January 1963. The following year RCA Victor asked Garnett to record her own 45-rpm single in her smooth, easy alto, with Prism Song on the B side. West Coast and Ohio radio stations promoted it first, along with a Billboard review calling it a “Gutsy and sincere sentimental pop-folk ballad” but it was Jim Lange in San Francisco who first broke the song. Listeners loved the way the song’s moderate tempo and bluesy swing paralleled the casualness of the woman’s affections.
We’ll Sing in the Sunshine, despite ? or perhaps because of ? being a contemporary-folk offering from a young unknown Canadian artist against established US and UK pop-rock stars, achieved immediate success. In Canada, the single entered RPM’s Top 40 Singles chart on September 8, 1964, reaching No. 2 by October 19; it later enjoyed several weeks on RPM’s Top 10 Adult Contemporary chart. September 1964 also saw the song on Canadian radio station CHUM’s chart at No. 10.
In the US, We’ll Sing in the Sunshine dominated Billboard, holding the No. 1 Adult Contemporary chart spot through September 26 to October 31, and taking No. 1 on Cashbox’s Top 100 over recordings by Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. It crossed over to Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart for 17 weeks, finding No. 4 there, and to the country chart (No. 43). In New Zealand, Garnett’s home country, the song made No. 1 that November.
Capitalizing on the single’s phenomenal success, RCA quickly released Garnett’s debut album, “My Kind of Folk Songs” (LSP-2833), with the hit’s title prominently displayed on the cover. Even if under aged, Garnett toured We’ll Sing in the Sunshine to night clubs in the US and performed it on influential TV variety shows including “Shindig,” “American Bandstand,” and “The Red Skelton Show”.
In January 1965, Garnett told an interviewer, “I wrote the words and music and sang it and of all the things that have happened to me, it is possibly the greatest thrill to have had people say ‘yes’ to something of mine to the tune of 900,000 records.” All told, Garnett’s recording went gold, selling 3.5 million copies by 1979.
We’ll Sing in the Sunshine went on to win the 1965 Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Recording of 1964, beating out Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’. It earned further nominations for Best Accompaniment Arrangement, and Best Female Vocal Performance (losing the latter to Streisand).
Prominent artists jumped on the song’s trending popularity to record covers, some while Garnett’s single was still charting: Dean Martin sang it on his 1964 LP “The Door Is Still Open To My Heart” (revising the lyrics to “My daddy he once told me/Love can kill a man/Just take what woman give you”). A cover by The Lancastrians, with guitarist Jimmy Page (later of Led Zeppelin) charted in the UK Top 50 by December 1964. The song was also covered by assorted pop, folk and country stars including Wayne Newton, Trini Lopez, New Christy Minstrels, Helen Reddy (an RPM Top 40 hit), Dolly Parton, Eddy Arnold, LaWanda Lindsey, The Mike Curb Congregation, Wanda Jackson, and as a duet by Sonny and Cher and by Skeeter Davis and Bobby Bare.
We’ll Sing in the Sunshine continued to be heard on television shows through the 1970s, including “Dolly!”; “The Sonny and Cher Show”; and “The Muppet Show,” where Reddy sang it to a camel puppet.
Garnett later included We’ll Sing in the Sunshine on her 1995 compilation CD “The Many Faces of Gale Garnett,” along with a French version, Toujours on se souvient. The song was also translated in German and in Italian.
The song appears in songbooks and on dozens of compilation albums of folk, pop, and country hits of its era, and has featured in film soundtracks, such as “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” It was also featured in the 1997 movie “Before Woman Had Wings” starring Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Barkin.
Gale Zoë Garnett was born in New Zealand in 1949 and came to Canada at age 11. After the deaths of family members while in her teens, Garnett went alone to California via New York City, where she pursued an acting career across the US. Her singing career took off with a 1963 recording contract. By the 1970s Garnett again concentrated on acting, appearing in the original Canadian cast of “Hair,” in Shakespeare, in Stratford and Shaw festivals, and in US and Canadian television shows. She received a Genie Award for Best Supporting Actress for the movie “Tribute” in 1980 and played in François Girard’s “Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould” (1993). She created two one person-shows; “Life after Latex” and “Garnett and Company.” Garnett and Company played in New York and won ‘The Villager Award’ for ‘Excellence in solo performance’. In recent years the multi-faceted Garnett turned to writing novels. She wrote three novels and one novella. Her first poetry collection, “Pomegranate Moments” was launched in Toronto in 2015. She is currently working on her fifth book and a play, and is a Board member of ACTRA, PEN Canada, Writers’ Union of Canada and Modern Times Stage Company.