Colorado actually has two state songs. The most well-known state song of Colorado, by A. J. Flynn, is entitled “Where the Columbines Grow,” The second state song of Colorado is titled “Rocky Mountain High,” written and composed by folksinger John Denver.
In May of 1915, the state general assembly adopted “Where the Columbines Grow” as the state song of Colorado. Author, composer, and well-known educator A. J. Flynn, Ph.D., created the song and all its parts. The song itself focuses on the natural beauty that is so abundant in the great state of Colorado. It consists of three stanzas and a chorus that is repeated three times. Each line of the song extols aspects of nature and wildlife in Colorado but focuses primarily on the ever-present beauty of the columbine.
Columbine, officially known as aquelegia coerulea, is a wildflower that generally blooms in late spring. It is also the state flower of Colorado, and the variety known as Rocky Mountain Columbine, otherwise called Colorado Blue Columbine, grows copiously in the mountains and valleys of Colorado. The flower itself is a light blue and white and has a trumpetlike shape with five layered petals. Butterflies, honeybees, and hummingbirds find this particular wildflower extremely attractive. The beautiful flower, while delicate in appearance, is actually quite hardy and enduring, which is most likely why it was chosen as the state flower and serves as the focus of the state song of Colorado.
Over the years, “Where the Columbines Grow” has been challenged as the representative state song. The most notable challenge came in 1997 when the folksinger and songwriter John Denver died in a tragic airplane crash. At that time, a group of fourth-grade students from a small elementary school in Colorado began a very persistent letter-writing campaign to have the state song of Colorado changed to “Rocky Mountain High,” as written and sung by John Denver. Finally, in 2007, instead of changing the state song, the state senate, by joint resolution, determined that “Rocky Mountain High” should be accepted as a second song.
The song “Rocky Mountain High” tells the tale of a young man coming into a state of grace and self-awareness through the natural beauty he encounters in the mountains of Colorado. While the original state song, “Where the Columbines Grow,” focuses primarily on the magnificence of nature found in Colorado, the second state song of Colorado, “Rocky Mountain High,” focuses on the life-changing effect such incredible beauty can have on a person. The two songs, therefore, actually complement each other in theme.