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.
Hank Penny - Yankee Doodle.mp3