Beautiful Dreamer

"Beautiful Dreamer"

First edition
Written 1862(?)
Published New York: Wm. A. Pond & Co. (March 1864)
Form Strophic
Writer(s) Stephen Foster
Language English

"Beautiful Dreamer" is a parlor song by American songwriter Stephen Foster (1826–1864). It was published posthumously in March 1864, by Wm. A. Pond & Co. of New York. The first edition states on its title page that it is "the last song ever written by Stephen C. Foster. Composed but a few days prior to his death."[1] However, Carol Kimball, the author of Song, points out that the first edition's copyright is dated 1862, which suggests, she writes, the song was composed and readied for publication two years before Foster's death. There are at least 20 songs, she observes, that claim to be Foster's last, and it is unknown which is indeed his last. The song is set in 9
time with a broken chord accompaniment.[2][3]

The song tells of a lover serenading a "Beautiful Dreamer" who is oblivious to worldly cares and may actually be dead. Foster's works feature many dead young women, including his sister Charlotte[3] and "Jeanie".[2] Helen Lightner writes, "This sentimental ballad is folk-like in character with its repetitious but lovely melody and its basic harmonic accompaniment… The quiet and calm of this mood is portrayed by the monotony of the arpeggiated accompaniment, by the repetitiveness of the melodic pattern, and by the strophic form itself."[4]


Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lull'd by the moonlight have all passed away!
Beautiful dreamer, queen of my song,
List while I woo thee with soft melody;
Gone are the cares of life's busy throng,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!

Beautiful dreamer, out on the sea,
Mermaids are chanting the wild lorelei;
Over the streamlet vapors are borne,
Waiting to fade at the bright coming morn.
Beautiful dreamer, beam on my heart,
Even as the morn on the streamlet and sea;
Then will all clouds of sorrow depart,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!

Recordings, film, and television


"Beautiful Dreamer" by Currier and Ives

The song has been recorded by Bing Crosby with John Scott Trotter & his Orchestra; The Nutmegs; Steve Conway with Jack Byfield & his Orchestra; Thomas Hampson with Jay Ungar (mandolin), David Alpher (piano), and Molly Mason (guitar); John Leyton; Jerry Lee Lewis;[5] Slim Whitman; and Roy Orbison on the album In Dreams (a top ten Australian single in 1964). The documentary Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile is named after the song. The song is also featured on Ray Price's posthumous farewell album, Beauty Is... Ray Price, The Final Sessions (2014).

Jim Reeves recorded a version while on tour in South Africa in 1962. Reeves sang in Afrikaans under the title "Bolandse Nooientjie". (A brief translation is fraught; "lass of the hinterland" is one possibility). Although Reeves could not speak Afrikaans, this was remedied by South African composer and songwriter Gilbert Gibson, who stood behind Reeves and whispered the words of the song to him, who would then sing the same words into the microphone.

Gerry Goffin and Jack Keller wrote a doo-wop version for Tony Orlando[6] which took considerable liberties with the original; the opening quatrain, for instance is "Beautiful Dreamer / Wake unto me / Can't you see me baby / I'm on my bended knee". Orlando released this version as a single in 1962[7][8] and it quickly became a regular part of the Beatles set list, from 1962 through the Beatles Winter 1963 Helen Shapiro Tour in early 1963.[9] A recording of a 1963 Beatles performance of the song on the BBC was released in 2013 on their album On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2. Rory Storm and The Hurricanes also featured the song in their live performances.

Bobby Darin recorded a bluesy version of the song with all-new lyrics, but the song was unreleased until 1999 ("Bobby Darin: Unreleased Capitol Sides"). No attribution is given for the new lyrics; one possibility is that Darin might have written these himself. These lyrics tell about a lonely woman who dreams of a love of her own, and a lonely man who dreams of love too. The reference to a queen is retained in Darin's version, asking if the woman is a "queen without a throne."


The song has been heard in various forms in many films, including Gone with the Wind (1939); Second Chorus (1940); Goin' South (1978); Duel in the Sun; The Night of the Grizzly; She Done Him Wrong (1933); Mighty Joe Young (1949); The Death Collector (1976); How to Make an American Quilt (1995); Batman (1989); The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947); the animated An American Tail; Drop Dead Gorgeous; Friends 'Til The End; Office Space; the Marx Brothers's Go West (1940); The Old Chisholm Trail; The Naked Spur; and The Domino Kid (1957). In Young Frankenstein (1974), the song is also referenced, when the ghoulish Marty Feldman, hearing a shrill and anguished female wail from a remote dungeon, smiles and (almost) sings "beautiful screamer...". In Kansas Raiders (1950) the song is played on harmonica around the campfire in one scene.


On television, the song has been heard in episodes and programs that include The Berenstain Bears and the Talent Show; The Berenstain Bears and the Female Fullback; Gunsmoke; Rawhide; Garfield and Friends; The Care Bears; Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; Saved by the Bell; All That; Kenan & Kel; Drake & Josh, SpongeBob SquarePants, That's So Raven; Elmo's World; Rugrats; A Valentine for You; Johnny Bravo;Cat in the Hat; Peter Gunn; Little House on the Prairie; Our Gang; The Twilight Zone; Wind at My Back; Leonardo; Bonanza; Shining Time Station; Lonesome Dove (TV miniseries); Tiny Toon Adventures; The Simpsons; Baby Looney Tunes; Petticoat Junction; Animaniacs; Car 54, Where Are You?, Devious Maids, and in Gerry Anderson's 1970 series UFO, where Paul Foster sings it in a sauna at the end of the episode "Ordeal." The series Touched by an Angel, in an episode titled Beautiful Dreamer (Season 5, episode 06), presents the song sung by a group of men in a tavern, with John Wilkes Booth leading them, on the same night he assassinated Abraham Lincoln. It has also been included in BBC America's Copper and is featured on the show's soundtrack album.

In one episode of the television series based on the movie Fame which had premiered in 1982, actress-singer Valerie Landsburg, a regular cast member and the daughter of Alan Landsburg, one of the show's (uncredited) sponsoring producers, sang a song with the same title, but with different lyrics and music, which referenced the Stephen Foster original. She later reprised it in one of The Kids From "Fame" television specials.

It has also been used for background music on spoken recordings.[10]

The opening stanza is also very similar to the Australian song "A Pub With No Beer"


  1. Catalogue of first editions of Stephen C. Foster (1826–1864). Library of Congress. p. 9.
  2. 1 2 Carol Kimball. Song: a guide to art song style and literature. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 248.
  3. 1 2 Michael Saffle. 2000. Perspectives on American music, 1900-1950 Taylor & Francis. p. 382.
  4. Helen Lightner. Class voice and the American art song: a source book and anthology. Scarecrow Press. p. 32.
  5. Jerry Lee Lewis, Rocket Retrieved April 8, 2012.
  6. Beautiful Dreamer at AllMusic
  7. "Record Details". 45cat. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  8. Tony Orlando's version of Beautiful Dreamer on YouTube
  9. Lewisohn, Mark (1996). The Complete Beatles Chronicle. Bounty Books. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-85152-975-9.
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