Among the many controversies (and we’ll get to some in later posts) that Florida’s new kinder, gentler Republican-lite governor, Charlie Crist, has brought about is whether to change the state song. Even those of us who never really knew we had a state song can guess what it might be. That’s right, Stephen Foster’s classic, “Old Folks at Home,” popularly known as “Way Down Upon the Suwannee River.”
Pennsylvanian Stephen Foster never set foot in Florida, and his song wasn’t even about Florida until Foster realized that “Swanee” sounded better than “Peedee,” the river in South Carolina he originally sought to memorialize
It all started when Crist â€” who can’t pass a day without being compared to California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger for his “populist,” centrist, two-month-old leadership â€” decided to forgo the playing of the state song during his inauguration ceremony. No one seemed to miss it at the time, what with all the other festivities, but later Crist was asked to explain the omission.
”There are lyrics in it that are, in the opinion of some, a derogatory reference to some time in our historical past that involves slavery,” Crist said. ”I can’t condone it.”
Since he said that, people like me who know the first couple of lines and then hum, have been wondering what the actual lyrics are, and how this got to be Florida’s state song. What the research turns up is fascinating.
For starters, Pennsylvanian Stephen Foster never set foot in Florida, and his song wasn’t even about Florida until Foster realized that “Swanee,” as he spelled it, sounded better than “Peedee,” the river in South Carolina he originally sought to memorialize.
Wait, it gets better. Foster wrote the song in 1851 for E.P. Christy and his traveling show, “Christy’s Minstrels.” It sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and by the 1880s, was credited with starting Florida’s tourist industry. But a look at the lyrics is enough to make you recoil, or guffaw, or both. […]