The Music of These United States
Songs about US States or with State names.
Part 2, Illinois to Mississippi, page 1
This month is our second installment of songs about US States
or with US state names. Our first
installment in March 2003, covered Alabama through Idaho. As in that first
issue, 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. In some cases, we had to stretch the point
a little when we could not find a specific song in our collection or obtain
a new one that specifically named the state in the title. This month we really
had to stretch on our Minnesota song. We were unable to find a song about Minnesota
so I had to settle for one that simply mentions Minnesota in the opening lines.
Our apologies to Minnesotans in advance. If any of you have a better song, send
it to me and I'll replace the Undertaker Man (on
page two of this feature)
We also want to mention again that this series 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, I want to mention again 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.
Dear Old Illinois
Music by: Paul Dresser
Lyrics by: Dresser
Cover artist: Calder
We begin our second installment of "state named" songs with
a terrific tuneful ballad that just reeks of nostalgia for all that a
home can mean to a person. Mom, the church, the old log cabin and many
other icons of home and family are included in this very nice song. Gee,
I wonder why Illinois didn't adopt this as their state song, it's certainly
nice enough in my opinion. Written in the clear and simple harmony that
is found in most turn of the 20th century music, there is no doubt this
song was probably a favorite in 1902 Illinois. The songwriter, Paul Dresser
dedicated the song to "The People of Illinois." Dresser was
from Indiana so one must wonder what his connection to Illinois was.
The Illinois territory was created in 1809 and by 1818 Illinois became
the 21st state. Illinois' state bird is the Cardinal and her state song
adopted in 1933 is titled oddly enough, Illinois and was composed
by Archibald Johnston with Lyrics by C.H. Chamberlain. Her state motto
is "State sovereignty, national union," and her state animal,
the white tailed deer, Illinois has a proud tradition of contribution
to America's base values, our political history and growth. Her state
slogan "Land of Lincoln" was adopted by the General Assembly
in 1955. Interestingly, the State of Illinois has a copyright for the
exclusive use of the slogan. The above facts were obtained from the official
Illinois state site. For more about Illinois, visit their website at:
Dresser (1857 - 1906) Was born in Terre Haute Indiana. Born Paul
Drieser, his brother was the famed novelist Theodore Dreiser (Sister
Carrie, An American Tragedy). Dresser's father was a religious
man and urged his son to become a priest. Dresser however would have none
of it and put his life energy into his love for music. He loved to play
piano, guitar and sing. At age 16, he ran away from home to join a medicine
show that sold "wizard oil" and it was then that he changed
his name to Paul Dresser. He spent several years wandering from troupe
to troupe and in his spare time took to writing songs. His first published
work was Wide Wings, published in Evansville.
In 1885 he joined a minstrel troupe and performed in black face and wrote
songs for the show. His first hit came in 1886, the sentimental ballad,
The Letter That Never Came. Lore has it that he was inspired to
write the song over a failed love affair. Regardless of the songs provenance,
it established his reputation as a songwriter and success upon success
followed. Most of his songs were popular during the grand period of the
sentimental ballad from 1890 to 1900 and the titles reflect that sentimentality.
Such songs as I Wonder if She'll Ever Come Back to Me, I Wish
That You Were Here Tonight and Just Tell Them That You Saw Me
were some of his most popular.
By 1901, Dresser had joined with his publisher as a partner and the firm
Howley and Haviland became Howley, Haviland and Dresser. Unfortunately,
by this time Dresser's popularity was waning and his creativity seemed
to have been used up. Dresser's prior success had allowed him to live
a lavish lifestyle and he lived in grand style. As a result he squandered
his fortunes and ultimately ended up bankrupt. As a result, he had no
funds to fall back on and the firm ended up bankrupt also and Dresser's
heath and spirit seemed broken. He did have one last hurrah left, and
it was his best. In 1905 he wrote My Gal Sal and published it
at his own expense. A huge hit, selling millions of copies, Dresser did
not live to enjoy the success and died in January of 1906 of a heart attack
in abject poverty at his sister's home in Brooklyn. In 1942, a screen
biography, My Gal Sal was released starring Victor Mature as
Though Dresser was a prolific songwriter and one whose songs were quite
successful in their time, few of his songs have stayed in the repertoire
to this day. The two exceptions are My Gal Sal and On The Banks
of The Wabash (1899), now the official state song of Indiana. (Basis
for this biography and essential facts from Popular American Composers,
Ewen, David, see our
bibliography for complete details.)
Hear this great Illinois
Printable sheet music (scorch format only)
listen to MIDI version
Music by: James F. Hanley
Lyrics by: Ballard MacDonald
Cover artist: Starmer
Admitted to the Union as the 19th State on December 11, 1816, Indiana
is geographically near the population and physical center of the United
States. Thus, Indiana 's state motto, "The Crossroads Of America"
is a fitting description of her place in the States. Like her neighbor,
Illinois, Indiana also has the beautiful Cardinal as the state bird (as
does her other bordering state to the east, Ohio.) Her state flower is
the bold and beautiful peony. Though
most people would probably think this song (Indiana) is the official state
song because of its prominence in among other things, the start of the
Indianapolis 500, her state song is Paul Dresser's On the Banks of
the Wabash, Far Away, (you can listen to it on the state site) adopted
in 1913. The official state site is at http://www.state.in.us.
For most of us in the US, the biggest burning question about Indiana is
what the heck is a Hoosier? There is an answer to that question on the
state site so for those of you who just have to know, check it out at:
(see the link there to "what is a Hoosier?")
Most often and incorrectly known as Back Home Again In Indiana,
this song is probably the best widely known song about Indiana that the
rest of us (non Hoosiers) know and recognize. As the feature song at the
beginning of the Indy 500, most of us have probably heard it and could
even at least sing the main line of the chorus ("back home again,
in Indiana). A memorable tune and simple lyrics make this song a standout
and a good example of what makes a song a lasting hit. I'm sure that Indiana
chose their state song because of its composition by a native songwriter
but would wager that this song would be the official state song were it
not for Dresser's status in Indiana.
Ballard MacDonald (1882 - 1935) was born in Portland Oregon. He
was educated at Princeton and became best known as a lyricist who collaborated
with some of the greatest Tin Pan Alley composers of the period. His best
known works are The Trail Of The
Lonesome Pine, (MIDI) written in 1913 with Harry Carrol and
Indiana with James M. Hanley, 1917. He also wrote Play that Barber
Shop Chord in 1910 which resulted in an interesting court case. In
1910, publisher/composer Fred Helf published Play That Barbershop
Chord, by Lewis Muir and William Tracey, or at least that is how
Helf published it. Songwriter Ballard Macdonald had begun work on the
song and had written dummy lyrics before leaving the song behind. The
piece was finished by Lewis Muir and William Tracey, and MacDonald was
incensed that Helf left his name off the sheet music. He sued Helf successfully,
and the award of $37,500 forced Helf into bankruptcy thus ending his foray
into publishing. MacDonald died in Forest Hills, New York in 1935.
James F. Hanley (1892-1942) James F. Hanley was a Tin Pan Alley
composer, and much of what he composed was for films and variety shows.
He was a prolific composer for Broadway and his many hit shows place him
in the forefront among the greatest Broadway production writers. His credits
include: Thumbs Up (1934), Keep It Clean (1929), Sidewalks
of New York (1927) Honeymoon Lane (1926), Queen High
(1926), Ziegfeld's Revue, No Foolin (1926), Big Boy (1925),
Pins and Needles (1922) and Robinson Crusoe, Jr. (1916).
Some of his individual song hits include War
Babies (1916) Second Hand Ros, Zing! Went the Strings of My
Heart (1935) Just ACottage Small By A Waterfall (1925) and
Indiana (1917). Hanley
also composed at least two film scores for The Monte Carlo Story
(1957) and Up the River (1930)
this definitive Indiana song
listen to MIDI version
Down In Iowa
Music by: George W. Meyer
Lyrics by: Sam M. Lewis
Cover artist: Barbelle
With a jaunty upbeat tune and a delightful chorus, our song for Iowa
is another in a long line of fun and nostalgic tunes about going home.
In some respects, this tune is much like our Michigan song later in this
issue. The song is by one of the greatest song writing teams of the times
and surely was popular and may still be in Iowa. Though none of the song
writing team were from Iowa, they clearly were aware of Iowa's rural and
farming tradition and captured much of that in this enjoyable song.
Called the Hawkeye state (suggested by James G. Edwars as a tribute to
the Native American leader, Chief Black Hawk), Iowa gained admission to
the Union on December 28, 1846. With a state bird the American goldfinch,
state rock a geode and a state
flower the wild rose, Iowa emphasizes its unique natural resources and
heritage. The official song for the state of Iowa is The Song Of Iowa,
written by S.H.M. Byers in 1897. According to one website (http://www.netstate.com/states/symb/ia_symb.htm)
the most popular song and the unofficial state song for Iowans is the
Iowa Corn Song with Lyrics by Ray W. Lockard & George Hamilton
and music by Edward Riley. You can learn much more about Iowa at their
website at http://www.state.ia.us/
W. Meyer (b. 1884 Boston, Mass.- d. 1959 New York, NY) was one of
the more prolific composers of the period with many, many hits to his
credit that spanned many years. Meyer's biggest hit was probably For
Me and My Gal in 1917 but he also wrote many favorites that have
lasted such as; My Song Of The Nile, Lonesome, My Mother's Rosary
and the great novelty song Where
Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday on Saturday Night? (Scorch format)
Sam M. Lewis (b. 1885, New York, NY, d. 1959, New York, NY ) As
with many songwriters, Lewis was a performer first and he sang gigs in
nightclubs in New York before song writing took over his life. Lewis was
actively writing from 1912 through the 1930's. From 1916 into the 1930's,
his principal collaborator was Joe Young, but he did write with some other
well known composers including Walter Donaldson, Ted Fiorito and Harry
Warren. Sam Lewis and Joe Young were a powerhouse Tin Pan Alley combination.
They collaborated only on lyrics but the list of lasting hits for them
is astounding. Among their many hits are; Rockabye
Your Baby With A Dixie Melody (Scorch format)
1918 , music by Jean Schwartz sung by Al Jolson in B'way play 'Sinbad';
Dinah, with music by Harry Akst, from the Broadway show Sinbad
starring Al Jolson later, also in Plantation Revue starring Ethel
Waters; Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue, music by Ray Henderson
and I'm Sitting on Top of the World, again with Ray Henderson's
music (1926). Sam Lewis is a deserved inductee into the Songwriters' Hall
Joe Young (b. 1889, New York, N. Y., d. 1939, New
York, N. Y. )
Joe Young was most active from 1911 through the late 1930's. Joe began
his career working as a singer-songplugger for various music publishers.
During WW1, he entertained the U.S. Troops. Starting in 1916, he and co-lyricist
Sam M. Lewis worked as a team up until 1930. Among his earliest lyrics
(without Lewis) included:
Don't Blame It All On Broadway; When The Angelus Was Ringing; Yaaka
Hula, Hickey Dula, (MIDI) written with Pete Wendling & Ray
Goetz and the great novelty song Where
Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday on Saturday Night? (MIDI)
an Al Jolson favorite. In 1930, Young and Lewis collaborated with composer
Harry Warren on an early talking motion picture Spring is Here.
It was one of
the Young and Lewis team's last projects together. From 1930 on, Young
mostly wrote lyrics by himself and continued writing nearly to his death
with his last known songs published around 1935. Joe Young is a member
of the Songwriters' Hall of Fame.
Listen to and see this
Listen to MIDI version
For The Kansas Plains
Music by: James G. Clark
Words by: Clark
Cover artist: Greene & Walker, Boston
Just to the West of Iowa is the great state of Kansas. Kansas was granted
statehood in 1861, becoming the 34th state in the US. Now with a population
of nearly 3,000,000, Kansas is known variously as the Sunflower State,
Wheat State, and the Jayhawker State. Her motto signifies the aspirations
and determination of her people; Ad Astra Per Aspera Latin
for To the stars through difficulty. Among her other symbols
are the state flower the Native Sunflower, the state bird the Western
the state animal the American Buffalo or Bison. Kansas boasts two state
musical symbols, a state march The Kansas March, by Duff E. Middleton,
and her state song, Home on the Range, by Dr. Brewster Higley.
For more great information about Kansas, visit their state web site at
We had to really stretch to find a Kansas titled song and did manage
to obtain one from way back in 1856. Perhaps more a political song than
anything else, it is quite dated and follows the standard construction
of songs from that early period in American song history. With a fairly
unremarkable melody and a repetitive chordal and bass accompaniment, the
song concludes as many did then with a chorus for SATB.
The writer, James G. Clark has faded into obscurity and I'm unable to
locate any information about him.
Hear this old Kansas
score (scorch format only)
Listen to MIDI version
Old Kentucky Home Good Night!
1853 (original publication)
Music by: Stephen C. Foster
Lyrics by: Foster
Cover artist: unknown
There was certainly no shortage of songs about Kentucky in our collection
and we had a very difficult time deciding which among the many that we
had. Though some has luscious covers and several would have represented
new and unheard of songs, we could not resist paying homage to Kentucky
through the one song about her that has endured for a century and one-half.
In fact, this year marks the 150th anniversary of publication of this
song. Stephen C. Foster has been acclaimed for many decades as one of
the seminal songwriters of popular song in America. Many of his songs
from nearly two centuries ago continue to be sung and learned by children
in today's schools. The simple beauty of melody and almost intuitive lyrics
make his songs a model for what makes an enduring hit.
One of America's earliest states, Kentucky joined the Union as the 15th
state June 1, 1792. Unlike many states she was never a territory but was
part of Virginia until statehood. Her state bird is the Cardinal, flower
the goldenrod and her state motto is, "United we stand, divided we
fall." Known as the Bluegrass state, Kentucky is known
for its horses, horse racing and terrific Kentucky Whiskies. A beautiful
state with great areas of wilderness and rolling hills and mountains,
she is one of my personal favorites to drive through when I go home to
Ohio. Though Illinois boasts being the land of Lincoln, Kentucky can boast
being the birthplace of the 16th president born February 12, 1809, in
Hardin (now Larue) County, Kentucky. For more information, visit the Kentucky
state site ( cleverly subtitled, "My New Kentucky Home") at
http://kentucky.gov/. Ooops, I almost forgot the Kentucky state song,
this is it, My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!
Though I've been familiar with this song since I was a child, I never
really paid much attention to the lyrics. In fact, like most songs that
are passed down over time, the only part I ever really learned was the
chorus. In preparing this song and reviewing the lyrics, I was somewhat
interested to discover that the song is more a hymn to the loss of the
slavery system than it is a hymn to Kentucky. Study the words and I think
you'll see that too.
C. Foster ( b. 1826, Lawrenceville, PA -d. 1864, New York, NY ) One
of the first of America's great songwriters. Despite showing a talent
and enthusiasm for music while still a young child, Foster received no
formal training. He taught himself the flute, a rather difficult instrument
to "self teach." His deepest musical influence, as a child,
was hearing the Negro spirituals when a household servant would take him
to a Negro church whenever his parents were away. He attended high school
years were spent at Athens Academy at Tioga Point, PA. While there, in
1841 he composed his first song, Tioga Waltz which was performed
by the school band. Upon graduation, Foster enrolled in Jefferson College,
at Canonsburg, PA. It was to be a short enrollment. Foster had absolutely
no interest in higher education, and spent all of his time loafing about,
composing tunes, day-dreaming, and playing his flute. Just a few days
after his enrollment, he left the college, his academic training ended.
After this, he was to devote his full time to composing music.
In 1844, Foster's first song Open Thy Lattice, Love was published,
with lyric by George F. Morris. At this time, Foster was holding small
gatherings, in his home, of some young friends. He composed several songs
for presentation at these informal meetings. Among these songs, were:
Old Uncle Ned, Oh, Susannah!,
(MIDI) and Lou'siana Belle. Around 1846, Foster moved to Cincinnati,
and began working for his brother's commission house, as a bookkeeper.
Foster interested a Cincinnati music publisher who paid nothing for some
of his songs and gave Foster a mere $100 for the rights to Oh, Susannah!
which went on to become one of America's most popular songs and lead
to Foster's loss of untold income. Copyright law at that time was virtually
nonexistent and songwriters were often taken advantage of. Though he managed
to make a good living from his music, he lost the equivalent of millions
through his own mismanagement and predatory publishers who took advantage
In his prime, Foster wrote so many lasting American hits that his enduring
output has eclipsed virtually every other composer from that period. As
well, his music was so different (compare this work and his others to
Ho For The Kansas Plains for a stark contrast) that he set the
nations music on a completely new course. His 1848 Oh, Susannah!,
is almost as well known today as when he wrote it.
After Foster quit as bookkeeper and moved to Pittsburgh, PA. be met
the famous black face minstrel show owner, Ed Christy. Christy began using
Foster's songs in his own Minstrel Show, oft-times listing himself as
the composer. But times were changing for Foster. He received a contract
from a New York Publisher who offered him Royalty Payments in lieu of
an outright purchase. Some of the benchmarks of his career are; 1850 Camptown
Races (MIDI); 1851 Old
Folks At Home, aka "Swanee River". Foster had never
seen the Swanee river. When writing this song he wanted to use a river
name in the tune. He originally thought of the Pedee river. Looking at
a Florida map, he noticed the Suwanee River, and altered the name for
he felt Swanee sounded much better. Can you imagine singing, "way
down upon the Pedee river?" Minstrel Ed Christy paid Foster $15.00
for the privilege of introducing the song, and to allow him to place his
name on the music as composer, but with all royalties from the sheet music
sales going to Foster. Inside of 6 months, Foster had earned royalties
of over $1500.00.
Foster, realizing the error of allowing someone else's name to appear
on the sheet music as composer, wrote to Ed Christy.
" I have concluded to reinstate my name
on my songs and to pursue the Ethiopian business without fear of shame
and lend all my energies to making the business live, at the same time
that I will wish to establish my name as the best Ethiopian writer."
In pursuit of his goal to become the greatest "Ethiopian" songwriter,
Foster composed: 1852 Massa's In De Cold,
Cold, Ground and in 1853 My Old Kentucky Home Good Night!
Both were great hits, earning him combined royalties of over $2000.00.
On July 22, 1850, Foster married Jane Denny McDowell. She was the person
who later inspired the ballad Jeanie
With The Light Brown Hair. (MIDI) It was to become an unhappy
home. Jane was a hard-nosed, practical, devout Methodist. She had no use
for his friends, his drinking, his music, and his association with the
theater. Still, despite his home life, Foster continued writing. Among
his songs written during this period are Old
Dog Tray (1853), Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair (1854),
Ellen Bayne (1854), Hard
Times Come Again No More (1854), Willie,
We Have Missed You (1854) Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming
(1855), Gentle Annie (1856)
and Old Black Joe in 1860,
his last "Negro" song. (All song links in this
biography are MIDI files)
Unfortunately, the tide began to turn for Foster. In 1860, he took his
wife and daughter to New York City, where he found despair and frustration.
His type of song was falling out of public favor, and he was forced to
write lesser material to keep his home together. Shunned by the public
and by his publishers, he often didn't have the price of a decent meal.
He lived in poor surroundings in the Bowery section of New York. When
his family left him, - they returned to Pittsburgh, his moral and physical
disintegration became complete. He sought refuge in alcohol, living in
an inebriated stupor for long periods of time.
One day he collapsed while at his wash basin. Discovered, bleeding, by
the chambermaid, he was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he died on Jan.
13, 1864. In his pockets, they found a a slip of paper on which had been
written, "Dear friends and gentle hearts", - possibly the title
of a new song, and three cents. He was 38 years old.
(Adapted from Foster biography at the Tunesmiths Database
and on a biography of Foster in Popular American Composers by Ewen,
see our bibliography
this classic Foster song
Printable score! (Scorch format)
Listen to MIDI version
Music by: Harold Dixon
Lyrics by: Robert E. Harty
Cover artist: "E.B"
On April 30, 1812, the territory of Orleans became the 18th US State,
entering the Union as the state of Louisiana. We know what happened next
thanks to singer Johnny Horton's great 1959 song: "in 1814 we took
a little trip.." Actually, it is said that the song was written by
Jimmy Driftwood, a high school teacher, to help teach children about the
battle of New Orleans. It is purported to be historically accurate. If
you want to read about it and hear a great MIDI of the song, see
this Geocities member page. Probably as deep in the deep south you
can get, Louisiana is an historic and diverse state. Though most people
only know about The French Quarter and Mardi Gras, Louisiana is defined
by much more than that.
Nicknamed the Pelican state and with a state flower of the Magnolia, how
can anyone miss her connection to the sea and Southern traditions. In
addition, her French heritage is not only reflected in New Orleans, but
also in the name which was given in honor of France's King Louis XIV.
Cajun music, good food and lots of joie de vivre mark Louisiana's contribution
to the Union. The state song is Give
Me Louisiana (link to 50states.com, Louisiana state song) Written
by Doralice Fontane and composed by Dr. John Croom. Learn more about this
great state's history at the official Louisiana website at http://www.state.la.us/
Though this song could never rise to the level of Driftwood's, it is
a pleasant and interesting song representative of the era. A gorgeous
waltz with words it must have been quite a success back then..and should
still be. With a unique double dotted rhythm and a through composed structure,
it is musically a cut above the masses of songs. A wonderfully serene
interlude between verses and chorus makes for a nice flow and the lyrics
certainly convey the beauty of Louisiana.
Harold Dixon wrote a number of other songs including; Ignorant
Mama, Papa's Gonna Educate You (1925) , Fireside Blues (1921),
Along The Gypsy Trail. Beyond that, I've been unable to find
much more about him. It's possible that after writing that 1925 song,
he was abducted and tortured by righteously incensed female libertarians
hellbent on educating him. His partner in this song, Robert E. Harty seems
to have suffered the same fate.
Listen to this great
old song (scorch format)
Listen to MIDI version
Most of the state facts featured this month were taken from each of the state
web sites cited for each featured song. As well, the terrific US States information
site, 50states.com was
used to find additional facts about the states. See our resources
page for a complete bibliography of all other resources used to research
this and other articles in our series.