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.

In 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:


Paul 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 Dresser.


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 song 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 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)


Enjoy this definitive Indiana song

listen to MIDI version



Way 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 ( 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


George 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 of Fame.


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 1916 song

Listen to MIDI version


Ho 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 Meadowlark, and 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 song Printable score (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version



My 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 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.


Stephen 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 of him.


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 at and on a biography of Foster in Popular American Composers by Ewen, see our bibliography for details)


Enjoy this classic Foster song Printable score! (Scorch format)

Listen to MIDI version



Louisiana Waltz


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, 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


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, 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.


WAIT! There are many more State name Songs, including Maryland, My Maryland!, and I Miss That Mississippi Miss That Misses Me 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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