New candidate for Florida State Song is chosen

01/11/08 Seán Kinane
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Florida’s state song, Old Folks at Home, better known as (Way Down Upon the) Suwannee River, contains lyrics that many people consider racist so a campaign to pick a new state song was undertaken. The winning candidate was unveiled today.

The King High School chorus performed one version of the song, Florida - Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky today at the Tampa Convention Center during a meeting of the Florida Music Educators’ Association. The song received the most Internet votes among the three finalists chosen by Just Sing, Florida!

Sen. Tony Hill from Jacksonville is the Minority Lead Whip in the Florida Senate. Hill, who wore an Obama for President pin, has been a leader in the effort to select a new state song.

Tampa Democratic Senator Arthenia Joyner agrees that the derogatory lyrics to Stephen Foster’s tune make it inappropriate to be Florida’s State Song.

In addition to the version sung by the King High School chorus, two other versions of Florida -- Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky were played, including one by Will Gere from the King High School chorus, who accompanied himself on guitar.

Joyner said she thinks that the Florida Legislature will make Florida – Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky the new state song.

The song’s author, Pompano Beach music teacher Jan Hinton, said she was born in England and has lived in Florida for 12 years.

People who want to keep Old Folks at Home as the state’s song say its mention of the Suwannee River may make people more inclined to protect that fragile waterway. WMNF asked Senator Hill for his reaction to those concerns.

“I can see if you said it was on the radio every day. Nobody plays that song. When was the last time you heard it played? … I’ve been to environmental group meetings – I’ve never heard that song played. So the correlation, I don’t see it. I just don’t see it.”

Photo credit: Seán Kinane / WMNF

Learn more:

Just Sing Florida

Jan Hinton

Sen. Tony Hill

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