Sunday, May 11, 2008

Popular Songs as State Representatives

Looking back over the last few posts, I realized that some of the songs I posted are recognized by a few states as official State Songs. Every state, with the exception of New Jersey, has at least one song officially designated as a State Song. Most are obscure, forgettable numbers played only at official functions, but several states have adopted more memorable songs.

In the Stephen Foster post, I included two songs that have been granted special status by state legislatures, “Old Folks at Home” (Way Down Upon The Swanee River) is the official song of the state of Florida. Floridians also honor Stephen Foster with a state park on along the banks of the Suwannee River. The Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park is home to the wonderful Florida Folk Festival.

“My Old Kentucky Home” is another of Stephen Foster’s timeless songs to be adopted as an official state song. Kentucky also recognizes an official State Bluegrass Song, native Kentuckian Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Just over the southern border from Kentucky, Tennessee felt that no one song could capture the essence of that great state, so they have no less than seven official state songs. “My Homeland, Tennessee,” “When It's Iris Time in Tennessee,” and “My Tennessee” may not be well known outside of the Volunteer State, but two of Tennessee’s officially recognized songs are recognized around the world. “The Tennessee Waltz” was written by Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King in 1947 and first recorded by Roy Acuff. “The Tennessee Waltz” has crossed musical genres and remained popular for over six decades. The song has been recorded by a diverse group of musicians such as Patti Page, Guy Lombardo, Petula Clark, Otis Redding, and Emmylou Harris, to name a few. “The Tennessee Waltz” was adopted as the fourth official song of the state of Tennessee in 1965.

Another of Tennessee’s state songs also has international appeal. Sometime in the early 1980s, my wife and I were enjoying a few pints and some good local music at a pub in Toronto. When the band took a break they joined us a our table, when they found out we owned a record shop and coffeehouse their first question was to ask me to write out the lyrics for “Rocky Top” for them. It seems they received a constant flow of requests for the popular song.

Louisiana is another state with more than one official state song. “Give Me Louisiana” is the one played at official functions, but the state of Louisiana has also honored one of its former governors, Jimmie Davis, by officially recognizing his song “You Are My Sunshine.”

The prairie state of Kansas has but one state song, but it is often regarded as the anthem of the American West. “Home on the Range” was first published by Dr. Brewster M. Higley in 1873. The song was carried throughout the western prairies by settlers and cowboys.

As “Home on the Range” has become an anthem for an entire region, “Yankee Doodle” has come to be associated with all of New England, and to many around the world, the United States as a whole. An early version of the song was originally sung by British troops prior to the Revolutionary War to mock the “doodle” (simpleton) colonists. “Yankee Doodle” is the official state anthem of Connecticut.

My own home state of Virginia has, in the past few years, retired its official state song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”, because some felt that the lyrics were offensive. “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” was written by black minstrel, James A. Bland, shortly after the Civil War and expresses an ex-slave’s nostalgia for his plantation home. The song was given emeritus status while the search for a new song is being undertaken. In 2006 the Virginia General Assembly voted to make “Shenandoah” the “interim official state song” until a proper replacement could be found. “Shenandoah” was originally a river chantey sung on barges along the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. The song found its way to the Ohio River and from there down the Mississippi River to the ocean-going vessels along the Gulf Coast.

These songs, all declared as official representatives of their respective states, have also become standards in the American songbook.

Harry MacDonough - My Old Kentucky Home - 1906.mp3

Bill Monroe - Blue Moon Of Kentucky.mp3

Roy Acuff - Tennessee Waltz - 1948.mp3

Osborne Brothers - Rocky Top – 1967.mp3

Charles Mitchell’s Orchestra with Jimmie Davis - You Are My Sunshine.mp3

Michael Martin Murphey - Home on the Range.mp3

Hank Penny - Yankee Doodle.mp3

Louis Armstrong and The Mills Brothers - Carry Me Back To Old Virginny - 1937.mp3

Rebecca Hogan - Shenandoah.mp3


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michigan follows suit with an official song, while an unofficial song, we sang in school, has long been used as the official one. Both are stuffy.

I'd prefer that Everybody do the "Michigan Rag".

May 12, 2008 7:55 AM  
Blogger kjk said...

yet another great post, ed. can't say (although i've tried) how much i've learned from you since i discovered the old blue bus ...

don't think i've ever heard the state song of illinois, but i can recommend dear old illinois for fans of fiddle music ...

May 14, 2008 9:03 PM  
Anonymous Lucy said...

I don't know if it was chosen to represent VA some years back when the powers-that-be were looking for a new song, but my favorite is "Virginia" by Page Wilson & Reckless Abandon... great tune!!

May 15, 2008 12:32 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

With so many good songs for state legislatures to choose from one has to wonder why most selected such stodgy songs to represent their homeland.

Ken, Illinois has great songs such as several by Dan Fogelberg or some of the nearly forgotten folksongs given new life by Art Thieme. It's a pity the legislature hasn't got any wider musical interest.

Lucy, The search for a new song for the Commonwealth of Virginia has been temporarily suspended. Eight songs have made it to this stage. Sadly, Page Wilson's did not make the cut. But, that familiar refrain "from the Blue Ridge to the Chesapeake Bay" greets us every Saturday night on the radio.

May 19, 2008 8:17 PM  
Anonymous blackdog said...

Hi Ed,

And Randy Newman ? He must have written a Virginia song. He's hit about every other state.

All these tunes have their echos in my growing-up memories. And then YANKEE DOODLE, sang this one on tour with Joel Grey in a musical called GEORGE M. It got everyone on their feet. Incredible.

Well still tagging along as all thoughts fly... k.

May 20, 2008 7:32 AM  
Blogger Jim H. said...

I don't know if Minnesota has a state song, but I would nominate Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisted" because Bobby is a Minnesota native (his birthday is being celebrated this weekend in Hibbing) and because Highway 61 runs along the eastern edge of Minnesota.

I guess it might not be the best song to sing when the legislature convenes or when the Guv is sworn in, but it gets my vote.

For what it's worth, Minnesota has a state muffin.

May 22, 2008 7:54 PM  
Blogger Ed said...


Glad to hear you are still joining us for an occassional journey.

Singing alongside Joel Grey must have been a thrill!

May 22, 2008 9:21 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Jim H.,

"Highway 61 Revisited" would be a great choice for Minnesota! But, you may have a point about it not being the best song for official functions.

Then again, not many states can lay claim to a state muffin!

May 22, 2008 9:28 PM  

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