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The state song of Florida is known as "Old Folks at Home," written by Steven Collins Foster in 1851. Although it is the current state song in the state of Florida, it is not the first official song of the state state. That honor, instead, belongs to "Florida, My Florida," written in 1894 by the Rev. C. V. Waugh. Although there was not much controversy when replacing the song, "Old Folks at Home" has since come under some scrutiny.
Ironically, the river made famous by the song, the Suwanee River, sometimes referred to as the Swanee River, was not the river referenced in the original version of the song. Rather, the tune that would become the state song of Florida originally referred to the Pee Dee River, which runs through portions of North Carolina and South Carolina on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. The reason why the original lyrics were changed to reference the Florida river has remained unclear.
"Old Folks at Home" replaced the original state song of Florida in 1935, when the Florida Legislature decided to make the change at its 25th regular session. "Florida, My Florida" had been the state song since 1913. Foster had died decades before the change was made to the state song of Florida. Therefore, whatever the motivation was for changing the lyrics, it was likely not so that the song could be named the state song of a particular state.
The song is sung in the first person from the perspective of a person reminiscing about his or her old home in Florida. The home can be inferred to be along or near the Suwanee River, which runs through a portion of northern Florida. It begins with the familiar line, "Way down upon the Suwanee River, far, far away."
In recent years, the song has come under criticism as possibly having racist overtones. A petition has been started to reinstate the original state song of Florida. Some lyrics of the song have been replaced, if not officially, at least unofficially, in certain situations.
"Old Folks at Home" is one of a long list of songs that Foster has to his credit. He is also credited with "My Old Kentucky Home," which is the state song of Kentucky. Other popularly-known songs Foster has written include "Camptown Races" and "Susanna," both of which have their history in American folk music.
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