So Long ‘Swanee’

Bill Cotterell, Pensacola News Journal, December 12, 2007

Three ballads with images ranging from alligators sunning themselves in swamps to rockets roaring into space made the cut Tuesday for a showbiz-style online competition to replace Stephen Foster’s antebellum nostalgia for the “Old Folks At Home” as Florida’s state song.

The choices by a panel of six musicians and teachers hit a sour note with some history-minded songsmiths who attended a formal announcement by two legislators at the Capitol. But state Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, and Rep. Ed Homan, R-Tampa, said they will offer legislation to replace the old ode to the Suwannee River with one of the three tunes posted on the JustSingFlorida.org site for a public vote.

Hill thanked Gov. Charlie Crist, who supported the search for a new ong and declined to have the familiar “Swanee River” song sung at his inauguration.

“What we’re doing here is sunsetting our prior song,” Homan said. “It’s a memorable song but it’s a memory of the way Florida was, and the new song will be the way Florida is.”

The ballad has been controversial for several years. The state long ago dropped some of the slavery-era dialect from Foster’s original lyrics, but secretaries of state and legislators have often tried for a modern replacement—sparking resistance from some Floridians but mostly apathy among risk-averse lawmakers.

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The winner will be announced Jan. 11 at the Florida Music Educators Association convention in Tampa.

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