Our All-Time Favorite Lullabies
Originally written by Johannes Brahms in the 19th century, this classic is more recognizable for its sweet melody than often-reworked lyrics. The German composer -- known in his time for having a less-than-soothing personality -- is said to have written the slumber-inducing ditty as a baby shower gift for a friend. A German folk poem inspired the original lyrics, but the words have changed often over the years and throughout myriad cultures.
Though its tune is tranquil, the message of this nursery-rhyme-turned-lullaby is anything but -- "... when the bough breaks/ the cradle will fall/ and down will come baby/ cradle and all." Still, babies and parents love this popular song, first called "Hush-a-Bye Baby," which is said to have been penned by a Pilgrim aboard the Mayflower who noticed Wampanoag Indian women rocking their babies in birch-bark cradles.
Hush Little Baby
You could complain that this beloved American lullaby relies too heavily on a parenting taboo -- bribery -- from pledges of mockingbirds to diamond rings in exchange for a little peace and quiet. But the ultimate promise -- a sleeping baby -- is too tempting to ignore. The song's simple structure inspires some parents to ad-lib new verses. Papa's gonna buy you an iPhone, anyone?
Over the Rainbow
Judy Garland's signature ballad didn't get its start as a lullaby, but the Wizard of Oz theme song has crawled its way into countless nurseries regardless. After all, sleep can't be far off in a place "where troubles melt like lemon drops." And what better wish for your child than a life in which "the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true"?
When You Wish Upon A Star
Jiminy Cricket's anthem made its silver screen debut in the 1940 premiere of Pinocchio, sung by Cliff Edwards. The dreamy song has since become synonymous with The Walt Disney Company, offering the heartfelt guarantee: "When you wish upon a star/ makes no difference who you are/ anything your heart desires/ will come to you."
Are You Sleeping (Frere Jacques)
Popular sung both in French ("Frere Jacques") and English ("Are You Sleeping" or "Brother John"), this well-known nursery melody dates back to at least the 19th century. Though the lyrics are simple and sweet, the tune has been used in some somber settings throughout history, such as providing the volatile soundtrack to political chanting by Tiananmen Square demonstrators.
Based on an old poem, "Cradle Song," by Elizabethan writer Thomas Dekker, this lovely lullaby became a household staple thanks to Paul McCartney's saccharine version, released in 1969 on The Beatles' album, Abbey Road. The song's lyrics say "smiles awake you when you rise," but we bet the peaceful sight of your napping newborn might also rouse a grin or two.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
How we wonder what we would do without this family favorite, one of the first songs kids learn the world over. Another age-old mystery is who first wrote the tune, as both the French and Mozart claim dibs. But regardless, no doubt the song's ancestors all shine "above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky" as they peer down on the countless cooing children lulled to sleep by their famous melody.
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Slaves hummed this hopeful spiritual, said to have been a favorite hymn of Harriet Tubman, while fleeing for freedom via the Underground Railroad ("Sometimes I'm up, and sometimes I'm down ... but still my soul feels heavenly bound.") Your child will be on the fast track to sleep thanks to the song's slow, soulful melody.
Little Irish (and non-Irish) eyes will be smiling when you play this well-liked ballad from the Emerald Isle. Then soon enough, those eyes will be shutting, too, as if on cue from the dreamy lyrics: "... And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me."
All the Pretty Horses
This haunting lullaby from the South appeals to a universal truth: Little girls love pretty horses, from ponies to unicorns to the Black Stallion. And with a refrain that repeats, "When you wake, you shall have/ all the pretty little horses/ blacks and bays, dapples and grays/ all the pretty little horses," it's easy to understand the song's timeless appeal.
Little Boy Blue
Your baby can't yet count sheep, but singing this nursery rhyme about a young shepherd asleep on the job is sure to lull your little boy or girl fast asleep. The traditional English poem is thought to date back to the Tudor era, and some historians think even Shakespeare's King Lear recited a take on this old-timey rhyme.