Why didn't Gov. Charlie Crist play the official state song at his inauguration? Well, the state song is "Old Folks at Home," by Stephen Collins Foster. Most people sing the first line -- "Way down upon the Swanee River..." -- then just hum the rest. It's not the misspelling of the Suwannee River that causes the fuss, it's the part that everyone hums. The song's lyrics include gems like the first chorus: All de world am sad and dreary / Ebry where I roam / Oh! darkeys how my heart grows weary / Far from de old folks at home.
"Old Folks at Home" became the Florida state song in 1935, and implies a connection to the Old South. While northern Florida has a historical, social, and political connection to the southern United States, the same does not hold for southern Florida. As Florida's population and political centers drift further south, the song becomes less and less relevant (although we should not forget that slavery and plantations are very definitely part of our state's heritage).
But if the state song isn't to be played at inaugurations, what should take its place? Crist opted for "The Florida Song" (links to mp3 file) by blues musician Charles Atkins. Atkins is black, a native of Daytona Beach, a former student of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, and most of all, a talented artist.
Up in north Florida is the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park on the Suwannee River. Stephen Foster never even visited Florida, and chose the name Suwannee because it fit the cadence of the music. The song originally refered to the PeeDee River in South Carolina. So why does Foster get all this attention from Florida? On the state park's website, we read that the idea of the park came from Josiah K. Lilly, an Indiana pharmaceutical manufacturer (perhaps you've heard of his family's business, Eli Lilly and Company). Lilly was a scholar and collector of Foster's music. The Florida park was not the only memorial to Foster instigated by Lilly -- he was also directly responsible for establishing the Foster Hall Collection (the largest collection of Stephen Foster's work), housed in the Stephen Foster Memorial building on the University of Pittsburgh campus. (Foster was born in Pittsburgh, and wrote many of his songs there, including "Old Folks at Home.")
The Stephen Foster Folk Cultural Center State Park hosts the Florida Folk Festival each year, where Charles Atkins has been a featured artist.
Update on State Song