photo: Green Shore Studio
A song that a 96-year-old Peoria, Illinois native Fred Stobaugh wrote as a poem for his late wife, "Oh Sweet Lorraine," debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at Number 42 this week, making the writer the oldest man to appear on the industry chart in its 55 year history.
Previously, Tony Bennett, then 85, held the honor for "Body and Soul," which he recorded with Amy Winehouse. The song spent a week at Number 87 on October 1, 2011.
Stobaugh's poem was made into a song by Green Shoe Studio and Jacob Colgan, and it may turn out to be a surprise hit of the year. Last week it sold 100,000 downloads, jumping 94,000 from the week prior, reported Billboard. And a documentary about the making of the song has been viewed 3 million times since it was posted on YouTube July 19.
The story of "Oh Sweet Lorraine" is as heartwarming as it is unlikely. During the summer, Green Shoe Studio launched a singer/songwriter contest, in which musicians were encouraged to upload a music video onto YouTube and send the studio a link. Along with a pile of song entries, the studio's CEO and producer Jacob Colgan received a manila envelope containing Stobaugh's poem. The Lorraine in "Oh Sweet Lorraine" was girl who worked as a car hop at an A&W Root Beer stand in East Peoria when Stobaugh met her in 1938. They dated for two years and then got married. She died in April, 2013. June 26 would have been the couple’s seventy-third anniversary.
To honor his late wife and cope with his grief, Stobaugh started writing, and the more he wrote, the more his feelings spilled onto the paper. "After she passed away, I was just sitting in the front room one evening by myself," Stobaugh said in the documentary. "It just come right to me almost, and it just kept coming and that's how I came to write it. It just seemed like it just fit her."
The lyrics he submitted to the contest included the lines: "Oh, the memories will always linger on/ Oh, sweet Lorraine that’s why I wrote you this song/ Oh, sweet Lorraine, life only goes around once but never again/ Oh, sweet Lorraine, I wish we could do the good times all over again."
"He said on the letter that he was not a musician and he was not actually a good singer," Colgan said. Even so, the studio owner was touched by Stobaugh's verse, so he contacted the old man and asked if he could hire professional musicians to record "Oh Sweet Lorraine." At first, Stobaugh misunderstood Colgan's intent.
"He goes, 'Oh, that’s just so great, but how much is that gonna cost me. I don’t have any money,'" the studio owner said in the documentary. "I said, 'Fred, you misunderstand me. We’re gonna do all this for free.' He began to cry on the phone and said, 'Why would you do this for me?' And I told him, 'Fred, it’s not that we’re doing this for you, we’re doing this together because music means so much to so many people and your song touched us.'”
While Colgan and his team were moved by Stobaugh's lyrics and story, they were shocked to find that the song struck a nerve with people across the country. "We thought that the documentary might do well," Colgan told Billboard. "But, we never expected the song to hit the charts. We're freaking out. But really, we're honored that we've been able to do this for the love of Fred's life."
Even though he didn't write any of the music for of "Oh Sweet Lorraine," Stobaugh, whose house needs a new roof and who needs hearing aids, is receiving most of the proceeds for the song. And Stobaugh's lyric writing days might just be beginning. Since submitting "Oh Sweet Lorraine" he has written another song, which Colgan described as a "real tear-jerker," though no one has written any music yet to accompany the tune.