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The state of Georgia owes a debt of gratitude to composer and pianist Hoagy Carmichael, lyricist Stuart Gorrell and singer Ray Charles for its state song, “Georgia on My Mind.” Indiana-born Hoagy Carmichael composed the song in 1930 and recorded it that same year in New York. Georgia-born Ray Charles, also recording in New York, brought it to a wider modern audience in 1960 with his memorable and haunting blues rendition, which became a hit and topped the record charts. It became the official state song of Georgia in 1979.
The ballad's lyrics and title lead people to believe that Hoagy Carmichael, who also acted in movies, wrote it specifically for the southern state. Some sources say he really wrote it for a sibling named Georgia. The brother and sister were close, and he missed being with her while he was working in New York.
Other sources say "Georgia on My Mind" was composed specifically with the state of Georgia in mind, thanks to a suggestion made by Frankie Trumbauer, a saxophonist and bandleader, to Hoagy Carmichael. He suggested Georgia as a topic because songs about southern areas of the United States tended to be successful. Frankie Trumbauer recorded the song in 1931 and it hit the top 10 on the record charts.
Ray Charles, whose full name was Ray Charles Robinson, was born in Albany, Georgia, in 1930, the same year Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell wrote "Georgia on My Mind." He was fond of the song and it brought him accolades long before it became the state song of Georgia. His recording of "Georgia on My Mind," from the album The Genius Hits the Road, brought him his first hit in a trio of consecutive hit records and a pair of Grammy awards in 1960, one for best pop performance and the other for best male vocal recording. Music legend has it that he recorded the song because he sang it so often, his chauffeur suggested he take it into the recording studio. The song was so closely linked to Ray Charles that another artist, country star Willie Nelson, performed it in 2004 at the singer’s funeral.
Many artists have recorded the state song of Georgia, including Willie Nelson. Other recording artists include another Georgia-born singer, James Brown, as well as Michael Bolton, Django Reinhardt, Anita O’Day, Gene Krupa and Louis Armstrong. It has been featured in numerous films and television shows, including the theme for "Designing Women" and as a sign-off for Georgia Public Television. Ray Charles performed the song in person in 1979 for Georgia state officials in Atlanta about six weeks before legislators approved "Georgia on My Mind" as the official state song of Georgia.