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Breaking Up In The Time Of War With Jean Shepard’s “A Dear John Letter” 

Jean Shepard + A Dear John Letter
by
  • Riley is a Senior Country Music Journalist for Country Thang Daily, known for her engaging storytelling and insightful coverage of the genre.
  • Before joining Country Thang Daily, Riley developed her expertise at Billboard and People magazine, focusing on feature stories and music reviews.
  • Riley has a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Belmont University, with a minor in Cultural Studies.

“Dear John, I must let you know tonight that my love for you has died away like grass upon the lawn,” Jean Shepard sang in her 1953 hit song with Ferlin Husky titled “A Dear John Letter.” It was her first chart appearance and a number one at that. The most impressive part? She was only 19.

Meaning Behind the Song

Before DMs, there were letters. And before breakup texts, there were breakup notes sent via V-mail. 

These breakup notes, specifically those sent by women to their men in uniform, were called a “Dear John” letter. And they became a public symbol of “female betrayal” during war. According to Time magazine, this letter made its debut in 1943 after Milton Bracker, a correspondent stationed in North Africa, wired the story to a major national newspaper. 

“A Dear John Letter,” written by Billy Barton, Fuzzy Owen, and Lewis Talley, was exactly that. 

The song opened with Jean Shepard singing the iconic greeting and then following with a confession that her love for him was already dead. And the more painful part was that she was off to marry someone else. Ferlin Husky then entered, telling the perspective of the man and how happy he was to receive a letter from his lover. But then he opened it up, and there it was, “Dear John.”

Shepard then took over the second part of the song, flawlessly delivering emotions that were surprising for someone her age. And then Husky concluded the song, reciting the content of the woman’s letter. It said that she had married her lover’s brother, Don, and she asked if she could get her picture back because her husband wanted it. 

For the final nail in the coffin, the woman said, “Will you wish us happiness forever, Dear John?”

The song didn’t only chart in country but also pop, peaking at number four. And from no-name singers, they became star performers. Since its success, it has been covered by several artists, including Skeeter Davis and Bobby Bare, who sent into number 11, and Red Sovine and Ernest Tubb. 

Listen to Jean Shepard’s “A Dear John Letter” in the video below. She also co-wrote and recorded a song reply to this track titled “Forgive Me, John.” We hope you check that out, as well as the rest of Jean Shepard’s hit songs

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