And While They Were Dancing

Perhaps it’s fitting that Tennessee, undoubtedly the most musical state in the nation, has  more official state songs than any place else.  Eight, to be exact.

Or perhaps it’s ridiculous.  I dug out my trusty copy of the Tennessee Blue Book to find out what I could about all these songs and made some interesting discoveries.

In 1925, the General Assembly officially declared “My Homeland, Tennessee” the first official state song.  Its lyrics include the following heartstring-tugging lines:

“…the state where Jackson sleeps, Shall ever peerless be, We glory in thy majesty; Our homeland Tennessee.”

Ten years later, “When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee” made the cut.  It goes, in part, like this:

“When it’s iris time down in Tennessee, I’ll be coming back to stay, Where the mockingbird sings at the break of day, A lilting love song gay.”

“My Tennessee,” adopted in 1955, is no better.

“Oh Tennessee, my Tennessee, Thy hills and vales are fair to see, With mountains grand and fertile lands, There is no state more dear to me.”

Lest you think a leap into the 1990s meant an end to sappy lyrics, here’s a sample from “Tennessee,” which joined the other songs in 1992:

“You will never find so bright a moon, to shine down from above, You will also see the robin, the wren and the turtle dove.”

And here’s my favorite stanza from 1999’s “The Pride of Tennessee”:

“Sequoyah was a Cherokee, the chief of all his tribe, His people learned to read and write with the alphabet he scribed.”

I’m not making any of this up.  Couldn’t, even if I wanted to.

Thankfully, the news is not all bad.  In 1982, one of the most rousing songs of all time was added to the roster.  You likely know all the words, even if you’ve never been to a Big Orange ballgame, but I’ll share my favorite two lines anyway:

“Once two strangers climbed on Rocky Top, lookin’ for a moonshine still; Strangers ain’t come down from Rocky Top; reckon they never will.”

And there’s the wonderful “Smoky Mountain Rain, adopted in 2010:

“Smoky Mountain rain keeps on fallin,’ I keep on callin’ her name, Smoky Mountain rain I’ll keep on searchin,’ I can’t go on hurtin’ this way, She’s somewhere in the Smoky Mountain rain.”

This research came about not randomly but was instead precipitated by last week’s sad news of the death of Patti Page.  She was my daddy’s favorite singer.  In the living room of my childhood home, we had a hi-fi record player housed in a massive maple cabinet that exactly matched the maple coffee table and end tables that flanked the couch.  Anytime any of us took a notion to put a stack of records on that hi-fi, Daddy always insisted that his Patti Page album be one of them.

It had “Detour” and “Old Cape Cod” and “Mockingbird Hill” on it.  And, of course, “How Much is That Doggy in the Window?”  My next-to-favorite song
was a somewhat risqué ditty entitled “Mr. and Mississippi.”  But my hands-down favorite was the one that, in 1965, became Tennessee’s fourth official state song.  It’s a story of romance and betrayal and nobody could sing it quite like Patti Page:

“I was dancing with my darlin’ to the Tennessee Waltz, when an old friend I
happened to see;
I introduced her to my loved one and while they were dancing, my friend stole my sweetheart from me.”

Now that’s a Tennessee state song worthy of the title.

(January 13, 2013)



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