Many believe that women began tying yellow ribbons in their hair when they waited for their sweethearts to return from battle. But Gerald Parsons, a Library of Congress researcher, finds it more likely that America's romance with yellow ribbons comes from a John Wayne movie.
The 1949 movie, "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," starring Wayne and Joanne Dru, was a cavalry tale about the Old West. Before too long, its theme song, "(Around her neck) She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," was a popular hit.Parsons discovered that the song had been registered for copyright many times. The earliest instance, in 1917, was George Norton's version, "Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon (For Her Lover Who is Fur, Fur Away)."
Parsons further traced the song back to "All Round My Hat," a curious dialect song performed in minstrel shows in the late 1830s, which in turn dates back to an English street song referred to in Shakespeare's "Othello," but without the yellow ribbons, Parsons says.
It seems yellow ribbons became a popular symbol only after the release of "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree," the 1975 hit song that told of the homecoming of a released prisoner.
Tony Orlando, who recorded the song, said that yellow ribbons marked the homecoming of POWs returning from Vietnam. But the practice was mainly associated with the Americans who waited more than a year for the release of 52 Americans held hostage in Iran.
In an interview with the Washington Post, songwriters Larry Brown and Irwin Levine said that they wrote "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" based on a story Brown had heard in the Army, not from a Civil War tune. The story Brown heard featured a white kerchief as a homecoming symbol, but the songwriters decided to substitute yellow ribbons for poetic reasons.