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Symbols of Florida - State Songs


The official Florida state song, “Old Folks at Home,” was written by 19th-century American composer Stephen Foster, a man who, as far as what is known about him, never set foot in the Sunshine State. Foster published this work in 1851 as sheet music under the name E. P. Christy. It became the official song of Florida in 1935.

“Old Folks at Home” is also known as “Suwannee River,” or “Swanee Ribber,” which seems to be its only connection with Florida. It was intended to be sung in minstrel shows. The original lyrics were written in the historic dialect of an African slave. But when it is performed now, standard English lyrics are often substituted for the originals, considered by many to be racist. For example, "brothers" was sung in place of the offensive word “darkies” at the dedication of the new Florida state capitol building in 1978. Here are the song’s original lyrics:

Way down upon de Swanee Ribber,
Far, far away,
Dere's wha my heart is turning ebber,
Dere's wha de old folks stay.
All up and down de whole creation
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for de old plantation,
And for de old folks at home.

Chorus
All de world am sad and dreary,
Eb-rywhere I roam;
Oh, darkeys, how my heart grows weary,
Far from de old folks at home!

2nd verse
All round de little farm I wandered
When I was young,
Den many happy days I squandered,
Many de songs I sung.
When I was playing wid my brudder
Happy was I;
Oh, take me to my kind old mudder!
Dere let me live and die.

3rd Verse
One little hut among de bushes,
One dat I love
Still sadly to my memory rushes,
No matter where I rove.
When will I see de bees a-humming
All round de comb?
When will I hear de banjo strumming,
Down in my good old home?

The song is traditionally sung at the inauguration ceremony of Florida governors, but in 2008, newly-elected Governor Charlie Crist decided not to have it performed. Instead, Crist challenged state Senator Tony Hill, leader of the legislature's Black Caucus, to find a new song. Hill, state Representative Ed Homan, and the Florida Music Educators Association sponsored a contest for a new state song. The winner of the contest was Jan Hinton, a music teacher from Pompano Beach, who submitted the following lyrics:

Florida, Where The Sawgrass Meets The Sky
Music and Lyrics by Jan Hinton

Florida, where the sawgrass meets the sky,
Florida, where our hearts will ever lie,
Sitting proud in the ocean like a sentinel true,
Always shielding your own, yet giving welcome.

Florida, land of flowers, land of light.
Florida, where our dreams can all take flight.
Whether youth's vibrant morning or the twilight of years,
There are treasures for all who venture here in Florida.

Mockingbirds cry and 'gators lie out in the sun,
Bridges span southward to the Keys and rockets skyward run,
The orange blossoms' sweet perfume and fireworks fill the air,
And cultures rich our native people share.

Florida, where the sawgrass meets the sky,
Florida, where our hearts will ever lie,
Sitting proud in the ocean like a sentinel true,
Always shielding your own, yet giving welcome.

Florida, land of flowers, land of light.
Florida, where our dreams can all take flight.
Whether youth's vibrant morning or the twilight of years,
There are treasures for all who venture here in Florida, Florida.

When the legislature met in 2008, they debated changing the state song, but were unable to agree to this. They reached a compromise by keeping “Old Folks at Home,” with revised lyrics, as the official state song and made “Florida, Where The Sawgrass Meets The Sky” the state anthem. It is not, it seems to me, an easy song to sing.
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Content copyright © 2015 by Georgiana Kurtz. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Georgiana Kurtz. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Georgiana Kurtz for details.

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