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Depending on the source and context, any one of six songs can legitimately be claimed as an “official” state song of Louisiana. The first song the state legislature adopted, in 1932, was the “Song of Louisiana.” The legislature again acted in 1952 to add “Louisiana, My Home Sweet Home” as the official marching song, a different honor. Come 1970, though, and the popular ballad “Give Me Louisiana” was added as a secondary state song, and in 1977 a third, “You Are My Sunshine,” joined these ranks as well. In addition, the state has approved an official environmental song, “The Gifts of Earth,” and an official song to commemorate the recovery efforts of hurricanes Rita and Katrina, “Come Back to Louisiana.” All represent something distinct about Louisiana culture and history even though they are usually thought of as quite different from one another when it comes to style.
All but one U.S. states have adopted official songs, usually as a way of capturing something significant about the spirit of the people or the geography of the place. Sometimes the songs were commissioned specifically by the government or lawmakers to serve as the state song, but other times songs earned their way to “official” by becoming popular or earning a place in the public consciousness first. All six of Louisiana’s songs were written and performed widely before they were honored by the state legislature with an official state title.
In most cases the honor is simply that — it’s honorary, and doesn’t really benefit the songwriter or copyright owner in any way. Accepting the honor usually means that the state is able to play the song at official functions and reprint the lyrics without running afoul of broadcast rights or other copyright laws, but not always. Most of Louisiana’s songs are in what’s known as the “public domain,” which means that rights to them are free and accessible to all.
The first song to be named an official “state song of Louisiana” was the aptly titled “Song of Louisiana,” which classical music composer Vashti Robertson Stopher wrote and published in 1928. Stopher was at that time a professor of musical arts at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The Louisiana legislature voted to name the work the state’s official song in 1932.
In 1952 the state’s lawmakers decided to enrich the local portfolio with the addition of an official march song. Sammie McKenzie, Lou Lavoy, and Castro Carazo’s “Louisiana, My Home Sweet Home” took this honor. Carazo was a musician by trade and the band director at Louisiana State University for many years, after being plucked off of the national jazz circuit by Louisiana’s then-governor Huey Long. Carazo, together with McKenzie and Lavoy, composed this song as a piece for the school’s marching band members to perform at games and other public events. It soon became popular throughout the region, and was known and loved by many.
In 1970, the state added Doralice Fontaine’s “Give Me Louisiana” as an official state song. There is some controversy when it comes to whether this action superceded the 1932 honoring of “Song of Louisiana,” or whether is simply added to the state’s rolls. “Give Me Louisiana” is often the first song cited when discussing the state’s official tunes, and many covers and remixes have been made over the years.
Of all the songs honored by Louisiana, “You Are My Sunshine” is perhaps the best known on a national and potentially even international scale. Unlike the others, this song isn’t specifically about Louisiana, and doesn’t name the state directly in the lyrics. The song was written by Jimmie Davis, Louisiana’s 47th governor, however, and by most accounts was actually composed while he was in office. According to widespread rumor, the song was written about the an illicit affair Davis had with a younger woman, though this has never been confirmed. It remains a popular country music ballad and has been remastered and covered by thousands of artists all over the world. Louisiana’s legislature added it to the list of official songs in 1977.
The state is one of the only in the country to have an official “environmental song,” so named because of the song’s significance to the state’s efforts to preserve nature and be mindful of resource depletion. Francis LeBeau’s “Gifts of Earth” took this honor in 1990.
Finally, in 2006, the legislature named “Come Back to Louisiana” the official song of the hurricane recovery efforts of late 2005. Hurricane Katrina, which devastated portions of New Orleans, struck in August of that year; Rita followed soon thereafter in late September, impacting new areas and worsening damage wrought by Katrina. “Come Back to Louisiana” was written by New Orleans natives Jay Chevalier and Bobby Attwood, and was used in numerous promotional venues and fundraising efforts as recovery began.
I think everyone knows "You Are My Sunshine," especially after the release of the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" where it played an important part.
Unlike some state songs, "Sunshine" is easily learned, easy to sing, and easy to play on almost any instrument. In spite of its rather mournful lyrics, it's still a popular tune to teach children in music classes. We sang it in my classes, although I heard my dad sing it before I ever started to school.
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