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Music has always been an important part of the US state of Tennessee’s culture. The state is considered the country music capital of the US, and Nashville, the capital city of Tennessee, is known as “Music City.” The fourth largest city in the Southeastern US, it is home to America’s country music industry. Tennessee may be unique among US states in having not one but five official state songs. At present there is pending legislation to add three more to the list.
The first state song of Tennessee was “My Homeland Tennessee,” adopted by the state legislature in 1925. The lyrics to the song were written by Neil Grayson Taylor, and the music was composed by Roy Lamont Smith. The song speaks of the beauty of Tennessee in its “smiling valleys” and “purple hills.” The lyrics also talk about the love and loyalty of Tennesseans regarding their state. The song expresses pride in the famous citizens of “the State where Jackson sleeps,” a reference to Andrew Jackson, Tennessee’s first US Representative and later the seventh US president.
Adopted in 1935, “When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee” became the next state song of Tennessee. It was written and composed by Willa Waid Newman. The song describes the beauty of Tennessee in spring while walking among its “deep tinted hills” when the Irises are blooming. The Iris is the state flower of Tennessee.
Also Tennessee’s official public school song, “My Tennessee” was made a state song in 1955. Written by Frances Hannah Tranum, a Tennessee native, the song recalls childhood memories of the natural beauty of the state and the courage of its citizens on behalf of justice. A verse of the song is devoted to the “battles fought and victories won,” that earned Tennessee the nickname “The Volunteer State” during the War of 1812. During that war, thousands of Tennesseans responded to the state's call for volunteer soldiers.
The song “Tennessee Waltz,” written by Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King in 1946, became a state song of Tennessee in 1965. The song was very popular throughout the 1950’s and was remade by noted American country music performers such as Patti Page. It is about someone who loses their sweetheart while the beloved dances with another to “the beautiful Tennessee Waltz.”
“Rocky Top,” written by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, became the fifth official state song of Tennessee in 1986. The name most likely refers to bald mountain peaks in the Great Smoky Mountains, located on the border of Tennessee and the state of North Carolina. Rocky Top is still a very popular song in the US. With its lyrics about “moonshine” stills and a woman “Wild as a mink, but sweet as soda pop,” it celebrates the spirit of independence and self-reliance embodied in the rural mountain life of Tennessee.
Let's discuss "Rocky Top" for a minute. This is one of those songs that has a dual purpose. It may be one of the state songs, but it's also the fight song for the University of Tennessee. You will hear it during a football game every time the team scores. In fact, the whole campus is often referred to as "Rocky Top."
"Rocky Top" is a rollicking bluegrass song, especially as played by bluegrass singer Sonny Osborne and his band. They play it in triple time. I actually like the song -- unless I'm hearing it when Tennessee plays Alabama, in which case, I'm not fond of it. It means Tennessee is scoring.