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The Music of These United States

Songs about US States or with State names.
Part 1, Alabama to Idaho

 

Robert and I have been talking about featuring songs about all fifty of the United States for several years now. Up till now, we've not had enough songs to cover all the states, but finally, after a lot of searching, collecting and sharing, we at least can get started with the project. Presenting a song for every state will require at least four issues and so as not to bore you, we will spread them out during the course of the year with other issues in between.

 

This month we start with songs for the states of Alabama through Idaho and you will find that with this issue and later ones, there is a wide variety of songs about states or with state names. You'll also see that some states had many songs written about them and some had very few. You will also see that in some cases, we had to stretch the point a little when we could not find a specific song in our collection or otherwise that specifically named the state as such. For example, this month's Colorado entry is Where The Silv'ry Colorado Wends Its Way, technically about the river, but since we had no other song about Colorado, this one got the nod.

 

We also want to mention that this issue is not about official state songs. Though you may find one or two among all 50, our intent is not to provide a survey of state songs. Rather, we want to use the theme of states to show the variety and style of songs written about states and simply add some enjoyment and fun to our regular features.

 

Finally, before we start, I want to mention that if we've left out your favorite song about your state, we're sorry, that's also not our intent . We also don't want to offend any of you wonderful people with a song that you might not think is representative of your state. It is important that you know that the songs we have selected are not purported to be representative of any attribute, feature or people within the state. Remember, all of these songs were written in some cases over 100 years ago and as such, represent political and social thinking far different from today. So don't get your dander up if you don't like the song we've used for your state, this is entertainment. not social commentary. Again, our intent is not to represent each state, just show the many songs written about states. If any of you have songs you'd like presented, we'd be happy to publish a "listener" feedback" feature on state songs with any rebuttals you care to make. The "rules" for submissions can be found here, we'd love to have submissions by any of our readers, anytime and would enjoy having a "reader submission" or "favorites" feature from time to time. Heck, get involved, help us out and write a feature for us!

 

Come with us now as we revisit the wonderful music of America's states. As always, this issue is on two separate pages so don't miss page two of this issue.








Way Down Yonder In The Cornfield (Alabama)

1901


Music by: Will D. Cobb & Gus Edwards
Lyrics by: Cobb & Edwards
Cover artist: unsigned

 

There were many options for us for a song about Alabama and it was hard to select one from the several we had in our collection. This one however, captured my imagination with the terrific cover and the rather captivating melody and down home lyrics. The Alabama territory became the 22nd state in December of 1819. Alabama's state bird is the Yellowhammer and her state song adopted in 1933 is titled oddly enough, Alabama and was composed by Edna Glockel-Gussen with Lyrics by Julia Tutwiler. With a state motto of "We dare to defend our rights," and a state book of the Bible, Alabama has a proud tradition of contribution to America's values and growth. For more about Alabama, visit the state website at: http://www.alabama.gov/

 

This song, by one of Tin Pan Alley's greatest song writing teams captures the rural and cotton belt heritage of Alabama and yet has a rather strange initial setting, in a far away harbor. But then again, why not, a little bit of homesickness is a great way to think of home. In spite of that seafaring beginning, the song speaks to the old traditions of the South; cotton, mother by the cabin door, and plantations. With a great melody that just oozes with images of wistful nostalgia, Cobb & Edwards crafted yet another song that deserves to be preserved as a grand part of our musical heritage.

 

Gus Edwards (1879 - 1945) Was born in Hohensalza, Germany and at the age of eight his family brought him to America. Considered by some to be the most important songwriter to come out of vaudeville, as a boy he worked as a tobacco stripper at an uncle's cigar store. Gus used to sneak into theaters and somehow made friends with several vaudeville performers, among them, Lottie Gibson who used the boy as a boy stooge in her act. Blessed with a fine voice, Edwards soon was performing in an act, "The Newsboy Quartet". During this period, Edwards met and received coaching from some of the most prominent performers of the time including George Cohan, Emma Carus and Imogene Comer. With Cohan's encouragement, Edwards began writing songs and his first song was All I Want Is My Black Baby Back in 1898 and performed as a part of the Newsboy act. Edwards did not know how to read or write music so had to enlist someone else to notate the melody for him. During the Spanish American war, Edwards was entertaining troops bound for Cuba and met Will D. Cobb, at the time a department store salesman who wrote songs as a hobby. The two hit it off and decided to work together writing songs. From that collaboration came a long list of hit songs including this featured song and Good-bye, Little Girl, Good-bye(scorch format) in 1904. Edwards worked with other composers and with each, wrote other hits. Among his greatest hits are In My Merry Oldsmobile (scorch format, see our February, 2001 feature), By The Light Of The Silvery Moon in 1909 and Tammany in 1905. Edwards continued to stay involved in vaudeville till it finally died out in the late 30's. He retired in 1938 and lived to see his life story made into a movie, Star Maker (1939), starring Bing Crosby. Edwards died in Los Angeles in 1945.

 

Will D. Cobb (1876 - 1930) Cobb, a Philadelphia native was educated at Girard College there. He was a department store salesman who wrote song lyrics on the side. One of his earliest works was Good-bye Dolly Gray with Paul Barnes in 1897. His career really took flight when he met Gus Edwards and they began collaborating on songs. Their greatest hit is probably School Days (scorch format) in 1906 but they had many other hit songs as a team. Cobb also collaborated with other important composers of the period. Cobb died in New York City in 1930.

 


Hear this great Alabama song Printable sheet music (scorch format only)

listen to MIDI version

Lyrics

 


 


Song Of The Klondike

1897


Music by: George J. Becker
Lyrics by: Nellie V. Millar
Cover artist: unsigned


Of course Alaska was not a state, and not even under consideration as a state in 1897. In fact, Alaska was probably mostly unknown to most people except for one area, rich in gold, The Klondike Finding songs from the Tin Pan Alley era about Alaska is a tough proposition, but we did manage to unearth this one, rather feeble song that at least references the territory by name. Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1867 from Russia for the huge sum of $7.2 million (remember your history lessons about Seward's folly?"). The Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-98 was the first event to focus attention on Alaska for most folks. During the decade of 1890-1900, more than 30, 000 people surged into the Yukon Territory and Alaska when gold was discovered in places like Dawson, Fairbanks, and Ester. On January 3, 1959, President Eisenhower signed the official declaration which made Alaska the 49th state. Known now as a haven for nature lovers as well as a huge reservoir of natural resources, Alaska is a well managed state and is known for a high quality of life. The official state site is at http://www.state.ak.us/ but don't expect to find it easy to get facts about state history there, it is a cumbersome site to navigate.

 

This song was written at the beginning of the great Alaskan gold rush and as such, puts focus on that aspect of the territory. It's a little hard to find many good things to say about the song. The lyrics are pretty OK but the music is repetitive and simple, almost to the point of being annoying. However, it is an important musical historic document and if nothing else, an amusing diversion. The songwriters are lost in the sands of time and nothing seems to remain of their imprint on time other than this song. If anyone knows their vital statistics or can provide a biography, it would be welcomed.

 


Enjoy this early Alaskan song Printable sheet music (scorch format only)

listen to MIDI version

Lyrics



 

Shine On Arizona Moon

1915

 


Music by: Harold Freeman
Lyrics by: Harry Donovan
Cover artist: Frew

 

None other than Abraham Lincoln signed legislation making Arizona a territory of the United States in 1863. For the next fifty years, Arizona tried to gain entry as a state and finally, after drafting a state constitution in 1910, Arizona entered the US as the forty eighth state on February 14, 1912. Known to most of us tenderfoots (feet?) as the home of the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a rich history of Native America and is a source of beauty and pride for its residents. With a state bird the Cactus wren, state gem turquoise and a state flower that is the blossom of the Saguaro cactus, Arizona emphasizes its unique natural resources and desert heritage. The state song is Arizona March Song written in 1915 by Margaret Rowe Clifford. You can learn much more about Arizona at their website at http://www.az.gov/webapp/portal/ .

 

This song is clearly not state song material but is a great example of the Tin Pan Alley style. Written the same year as the official state song, it is more a love song with a setting in what was no doubt to most people, a far away and exotic place. The song's lyrics tell of someone missing another and memories of "Way out west where life is all a song." and the romantic Arizona moon. I wonder if anyone from Arizona can confirm for us easterners whether or not life is all a song out there? Musically, we have a pretty standard song of the era with a great dotted note rhythm and memorable melody not only in the verse but the chorus too. Use of staccato passages and a really nice flowing melody in the chorus made this one of my favorites this month. Enjoy it.

 


Listen to and see this 1915 song

Listen to MIDI version

Lyrics


She's A Grand Old Arkansas

1911



Music by: Martha E. Treadway
Words by: Treadway
Cover artist: unsigned

 

Just across the Mississippi from my home is the great state of Arkansas. Rich in natural beauty and agricultural resources, Arkansas is also the location of the only public diamond mine in the United States. Originally part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, Arkansas was organized into a territory in 1819. On June 15, 1836 Arkansas became the 25th State. Officially known as "The Natural State", Arkansas is known throughout the country for its natural beauty, clear lakes and streams and abundance of natural wildlife. Her state bird is the Mocking bird and state flower is the apple blossom. Heck, they even have a state insect, the honeybee. For more great information about Arkansas, visit their state web site at http://www.state.ar.us/ . Arkansas boasts a number of state songs that can be viewed at the website. Perhaps the most well known of which is The Arkansas Traveller by Colonel Sanford (Sandy) Faulkner written around 1850 and adopted by the 1987 Arkansas General Assembly as the Official State Historic Song.

 

This song is certainly more obscure and has suffered the same fate as the Klondike song. Written by a today unknown composer, it has faded into obscurity along with the songwriter. The lyrics show that the songwriter was clearly enthusiastic and proud of her home state. The music is workmanlike and actually quite pleasant. With a good melody and great harmony, the style even gives off a country flavor. I'm actually a bit surprised this song did not make it to the list of Arkansas state songs, it is pretty dang good! Published by a regional publisher, the song probably never got a wide distribution except in the Ozark area. If any relatives of Ms. Treadway care to come forward with some biographical information, we'll be delighted to update this feature.

 


Hear this old Arkansas song Printable score (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version

Lyrics

 


 



California and You

1914



Music by: Harry Puck
Lyrics by: Edgar Leslie
Cover artist: John Frew


Ah, California, the state that might be called the bellwether state. A state that enjoys being a trendsetter, it has long been the focus of innovation and commerce for the west of America. With a rich Spanish heritage, California was not so well known till it too, like Alaska, had a gold rush that brought it to the forefront of America's attention. The transcontinental railroads allowed a huge influx into California and the US, recognizing its value made it a state on September 9, 1850, when President Fillmore signed the bill that gave California statehood. The state motto of California is "Eureka," a Greek word meaning, "I have found it!" The motto relates to the discovery of gold in California. California is most commonly known as "The Golden State," The state flower is the California Poppy, the state bird is the California Quail and the state animal is the California grizzly bear. Visit the rather complex California state site at http://www.ca.gov/state/. The official state song is I Love You California with lyrics by F. B. Silverwood and music by A. F. Frankenstein (Doh!)

 

Similar to our Arizona song, this one is about a love far away and a return to the state where she is. The song speaks to some of the natural attributes of California; the Pacific shore, orange scent in the air and the woods and the expected reunion (see our lyrics link below for the full text, or listen to the song in the scorch format to hear the music and see it as well.) Musically, it is a wonderful melody and sounds a bit like some of the music that Jolson was associated with, if he never sang it, he should have for it seems to fit his style quite well.

 

Edgar Leslie ( b. Dec. 31, 1885 Stamford, CT., d. 1976)
Leslie was educated at Cooper Union in New York and published his first song, Lonesome in 1909. Among his many hit songs are; He'd Have to Get Out - Get Out and Get Under, (scorch format) co-lyricists were Grant Clarke and Maurice Abrahams; the great hit For Me and My Gal, (scorch) music by Ray Goetz and Geo. W. Meyer; Oh What a Pal Was Mary, (MIDI) with Pete Wendling. In 1927, Leslie traveled to England. While there, he wrote some songs with composer Horatio Nicholls, a pseudonym for music publisher Lawrence Wright. Among their work was: Among My Souvenirs, the same song that became a Connie Francis hit in 1959; Mistakes, a Vera Lynn hit record and Shepherd of the Hills. Leslie continued writing hits well into the 30'a and beyond. His trademark style included many "place named songs such as Kansas City Kitty, Rose of the Rio Grande and of course, California and You as well as the great America, I Love You (MIDI) and humorous titles such as When Ragtime Rosie Ragged the Rosary and Where Was Moses When The Lights Went Out? Among the many composers with whom Leslie worked, are: Harry Ruby; Fred Ahlert; Joe Burke; Jimmy Monaco, and Walter Donaldson.

(Adapted from the Tunesmiths database, http://nfo.net/.CAL/index.html)

 

Harry Puck, (b. May 15, 1891 in Brooklyn, NY - d. January 2, 1964 in Metuchen,
NJ.) From about 1898-1911 he was part of a brother sister vaudeville act with his sister Eva, known as the Two Pucks. (They were also song "pluggers" and were the featured artists in numerous song sheets, several by Von Tilzer ... so they were familiar even as children with Tin Pan alley). After his sister's marriage, he turned his attention to composing and music publishing (Kalmar & Puck 1913-1915; and Kalmar,
Puck & Abrahams 1915-1918). He was most active in these fields 1913-1918. After his sister's return to the stage, they had a short-lived reunion as a vaudeville act, before going their separate ways onto the Broadway musical stage, were they both became well known musical comedy feature actors. In later years he worked for the Shubert
brothers in New York and for Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, CA, eventually returning to New York to go into business.Among the songs which he wrote are:
Loving Eyes (1907), Over the Garden Wall (1913), Everybody Snap Your Fingers With Me (1913), That's Why I Never Go Home (1913), Where Did You Get That Girl? (1913), My Hidden Treasure, (1913), Kiss Me Like You've Never Been Kissed Before (1913), California and You (1914), The Little House Upon the Hill (1915) and Johnny, Get a Girl in 1916. As a performer, he appeared in a number of Broadway shows including; 1921 - Tangerine, 1924 - Lollipop, 1926 - Twinkle Twinkle and 1930 - Three Little Girls. In 1913, the year that the US Post Office inaugurated parcel post service Puck wrote My Parcel Post Man with lyrics by Bert Kalmar. (Biographical information graciously provided to us by Georgina Z. McWherter)


 

Enjoy this great song

Listen to MIDI version

Lyrics

 



Where The Silv'ry Colorado Wends Its Way

1901



Music by: Charles Avril
Lyrics by: C.H. Scoggins
Cover artist: unsigned

 

Beautiful Colorado, home of the original "Rocky Mountain High", Continental Divide, Silverton and some of the most awesome scenery and wildlife that can be found in these United States. Originally a part of Colorado was included in the Louisiana purchase. Called the centennial state due to its 1876 admission to The Union as 38th State. Her state motto is Nil Sine Numine - Nothing Without the Deity; state animal Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep and state bird the Lark Bunting. The state song is Where the Columbines Grow written by A.J. Fynn sometime after 1896, the state adopted the song in 1915. Learn more about this great state's history at the Colorado website at http://www.colorado.gov/

 

This song is one of those where we stretch things a bit. We did not have a song specifically about the state, but what the heck, the river qualifies as a state resource. The lyrics certainly speak to the beauty of the mountains and snow that is found in Colorado and at the same time qualifies as a tear jerker (see our feature on tear jerkers) as it sings of a lost love, Nell, who "sleeps be-neath the li-lacs and she'll ne'er come back a-gain." Musically it has a pleasant melody and stylistically it reminds me of many of the tear jerker songs written during that period ( ca. 1900). I think you'll enjoy it and hope y'all out there in Colorado like it too.


 

Listen to this great old song (scorch format)

Listen to MIDI version

Lyrics

 



Most of the state facts featured this month were taken from each of the state web sites cited for each featured song. See our resources page for a complete bibliography of all resources used to research this and other articles in our series.

 


WAIT! There are many more State name Songs, including Connecticut March, Our Delaware and Ida-Ho to see and hear. The second part of this issue features many more rare and different works.

More hit music and covers in this month's issue, go to part B.



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