The state song of Alabama is appropriately titled Alabama. The song comes from a poem written in the late 1860s by Julia S. Tutwiler; it was later set to music and adopted by the state government as the official song in 1931. The song acknowledges Alabama’s history of agriculture and mining and is meant to inspire loyalty in the state’s citizens. The music for Alabama was composed by Edna Gockel Gussen, an organist and choirmaster from Birmingham, Alabama.
Tutwiler was a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, having been born there in 1841. She was instrumental in furthering women’s education in the state and helping to reform the prison system. In her early years, she was one of the first students to attend Vassar College in New York and continued her education in Europe. During her stay in Germany, she admired the nation’s patriotic songs and was inspired to write Alabama for her home state.
Gussen’s music for the song was chosen in 1917 through a statewide competition sponsored by the State Federation of Music Clubs. The poem and accompanying music were finally adopted as the official state song of Alabama on March 9, 1931. The act of the state legislature was signed by then-Governor B.M. Miller.
The state song of Alabama references many of the state’s geographic features and its position in the Southeastern United States. The second stanza mentions several of the state’s major waterways, including the Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Coosa rivers. The third stanza references Alabama’s cotton industry, which was vital to the state’s economy when the poem was written. This stanza also mentions the state’s coal and iron mining, which had become more significant by 1931, when the song was adopted. The song's refrain of “Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!” seeks to inspire in others the sense of loyalty to the state that Tutwiler realized during her stay in Germany.
Over time, other songs about the state have become more popular than Alabama. Stars Fell on Alabama is a jazz standard from the 1930s commemorating a notable meteor shower seen in the skies of the state. Sweet Home Alabama, by the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, is another popular song and is often played by marching bands across the state. The titles of both of these songs have appeared on the state’s license plates. Tutwiler's version continues to be the official state song of Alabama, though, acting as a tribute to the state's history and Tutwiler's work.