We have Gen Z to thank for reviving the classic Reba ballad, “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia,” which gained new life last year after going insanely viral during the trial of disgraced South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh.
But there’s more to the history of this Reba hit song than meets the eye…
Actually it’s sort of a miracle this song was ever recorded and released in the first place, and no, Reba isn’t the original songstress of this creepy murder ballad.
The song was originally penned by singer-songwriter Bobby Russell, but he actually thought the song was flat, and he definitely wasn’t inspired by its potential.
As fate would have it though, Bobby was then married to Golden Globe comedian and actress nominee, Vicki Lawrence, better known as “Mama” (or Thelma Harper) from the sitcom Mama’s Family, or from The Carol Burnett Show where she got her start.
Vicki found the song compelling, and thought Bobby was dead wrong about the song’s potential, so she recorded it herself in 1973 – and it was the only song she ever recorded!
No doubt, this effort was one of proving her husband wrong, and ironically the song finally climbed and topped the charts about the time Vicki and Bobby divorced a year later. The marriage between the two may have been short-lived, but the song’s impact was not!
Vicki jokingly called “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” the only good thing to come out of her and Bobby’s marriage.
In another odd twist of the song’s history and prior to the popular 1991 Reba cover, it was also offered to Cher. But on her behalf, her husband Sonny Bono shut down the possibility of her recording it, afraid that the song’s connotations would upset her Southern fanbase. Cher reportedly didn’t even know about the offer for many years after.
A year before songwriter Bobby Russell’s death, Reba McEntire picked up the song and got permission to do a cover of it. It’s no secret that Reba is a lover of long ballad style songs, and her cover was easily the most monumental moment in the song’s life.
Reba’s version skyrocketed to the top and continues to be a hit with country music listeners with its slow-building climax and plot twist ending, and of course in comparison to the Murdaugh trial it stands to remind everyone not to trust “backwoods southern lawyers.”
But, not to be forgotten, the song was first recorded by “Mama,” a class act and comedian who believed in its durability as a hit, and damn if she wasn’t right on target.