What Is the State Song of Illinois?

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  • Written By: Sandi Johnson
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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According to the Illinois Compiled Statutes, the 54th Illinois General Assembly nominated and approved a song entitled Illinois as the official state song, in 1925. The lyricist was Charles H. Chamberlain, and the musical score was provided by Archibald Johnston. The song is sometimes referred to by its first line: By Thy Rivers Gently Flowing. Documents archived in the official state records show that Chamberlain wrote four complete verses for Illinois.

Prior to the adoption of Illinois as the state song, Illinoians spent more than one hundred years without an official anthem. Illinois began its history as a state in December of 1818, and legislators adopted an official state seal in 1868, followed by an official state flag in 1913. No state song was adopted until the enactment of section 35 of the States Designation Act in 1925. Illinois enjoys the distinction of being the first and only official state song of Illinois, the fifth largest state in the United States.


Given that Illinois bears the nickname The Prairie State, it is understandable that the lyrics of the official state song of Illinois would extoll the virtues of the state's prairie wilderness. In addition to celebrating the state's famously wide open geography and rich agricultural history, the song further highlights the state's historic role in the Civil War. Verse three of the state song praises the bravery of Illinois residents when the war first began with the secession of the southern states. Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and John A. Logan are all honored in the final verse, each having served Illinois in the Civil War and as influential political leaders.

The state song of Illinois, by carrying the state's name as its simple, one word title, follows a trend adopted by numerous other states in the U.S. More than two-thirds of the official state songs in the US prominently feature the state's name in the title. Still more states have more than one official song, anthem, or musical state symbol, with each specially chosen melody frequently relying on the state's name for at least a portion of the title. For Illinoians, not only does the official state song of Illinois carry the state's name, it has additional meaning to the state's Native American population. To the Algonquin, Illinois' native Indian tribesman, the word illinois, derived from the word illini, means superior men or warriors.


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