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I can name that tune in ... no, I can’t

Robert Galvin

Before we begin, how about we all gather ‘round and sing the Official State Song of Oregon?

No? Forget the words? OK, maybe just hum a few bars?

Still stumped? Hmmm … let’s start simple: Name the Official State Song of Oregon.

Oh. Don’t fret, I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard it performed either.

Truth is, “Oregon, My Oregon” was barely a blip on the horizon until a month or so ago. That’s when the state Legislature took up a resolution to revise the lyrics to Henry Bernard Murtaugh’s march in F major to rid it of what Rep. Sheri Schouten, D-Beaverton, called “outdated, racist and White Supremist language.”

Murtaugh wrote … what was it again? … oh yes … “Oregon, My Oregon” for a song contest back in 1920. And the state bestowed its official okee-dokie to it in 1927 — where it mostly has been gathering dust bunnies ever since, on a shelf next to the Official State Dance of Oregon, the square dance.

Rep. Schouten’s resolution passed the House and includes substitute lyrics by singer-songwriter Amy Shapiro, also of Beaverton, who rewrites the offending first verse as follows:


Land of the Empire Builders,

Land of the Golden West;

Conquered and held by free men,

Fairest and the Best


Land of Majestic Mountains,

Land of the Great Northwest;

Forests and rolling rivers,

Grandest and the best

The emphasis clearly moves from the historical, and in some respects regrettable, actions of those who founded the state to the natural beauty of the land — which is something that would seemably not find many detractors, although the change from “fairest” to “grandest” might raise a ruckus.

Meanwhile, in the second verse (which is not the same as the first), the dramatic phrase “blessed by the blood of martyrs” is changed to “blessed by the love of freedom.”

Such changes to objectionable lyrics have occurred before in the arcane world of Official State Songs.

Back in 1997, for instance, Virginia stripped official status from “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” and went 18 years before naming its replacement … “Our Great Virginia.” And in 2008, Florida revised the lyrics to “Swanee River” just to keep the Stephen Foster perennial on the books.

In 2011, meanwhile, Oklahoma took back the designation of Official State Rock Song from “Do You Realize??” by The Flaming Lips after objections by some state legislators over the comportment by members of the band.

I would have done so for the use of the double question mark in the song title … but no one asked.

Wait … an Official State “Rock” Song?

It’s not the only one.

The State Rock Song of Washington state is “Louie, Louie” — the most famous version of which is by an Oregon band … wake up, people! — while the State Rock Song of Ohio is “Hang On Sloopy.”

The derivation of that song, frankly, isn’t as interesting for our purposes as the wording of House Concurrent Resolution 16 in the Ohio Legislature back in 1985, which reads in part:

“WHEREAS, “Hang On Sloopy” is of particular relevance to members of the baby boom generation, who were once dismissed as a bunch of long-haired, crazy kids, but who now are old enough and vote in sufficient numbers to be taken quite seriously …”


“WHEREAS, Adoption of this resolution will not take that long, cost the State anything, or affect the quality of life in this State to any appreciable degree, and if we the Legislature just go ahead and pass the damn thing, we can get on with more important stuff.”

Oh, that’s only the scratching the surface of what you can find on those dust-bunny-laden shelves.

Montana has a State Lullaby. New Mexico has a State Cowboy Song. Connecticut (where the Official State Song is “Yankee Doodle”) has a State Cantata. Louisiana has a State Environmental Song. Wisconsin has a State Waltz.

And then there’s Massachusetts.

The Commonwealth of my birth has — in alphabetical order, all official — a State Anthem, a State Ceremonial March (although why you’d want a State March that wasn’t ceremonial is open for debate), a State Folk Song, a State Glee Club Song, a State Ode, a State Patriotic Song … and a State Polka.

They don’t call us Massholes without reason, you know.

New Jersey doesn’t have an Official State Song, which seems incongruous for a state that produced, among other legends, Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston and Bruce Springsteen.

Heck, nothing from The Voice, The Boss or The Chairman of the Board … and yet Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. co-wrote the Official State Song of two different states???

(That really was worth three question marks.)

Better known, of course, as John Denver, his oeuvre has been mined twice — “Rocky Mountain High” in Colorado and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in West Virginia, the latter at one time in its creation (on a car trip in Maryland) almost was written about Massachusetts.

If Oregon ever gets around to deciding on an official State Rock Song — I’m fearing a contest for State Environmental Polka is in our future — I’m partial to either “Stuck in the Middle With You” from Stealers Wheel or The Temptations classic “I Wish It Would Rain.”

I could go on, ad nauseum (too late), but let’s just say that no Official State Song in my opinion is better chosen and more appropriate than the definitive Ray Charles version of “Georgia on My Mind.”

It’s certainly better that “South Carolina on My Mind” which, you might be surprised to learn, is no relation to “Carolina on My Mind” …. OK, all right, enough with the nauseum.

Suffice to say, whatever happens with “Oregon, My Oregon,” let’s hope that it won’t affect the quality of life here to any appreciable degree, and it can just F major march itself back in the Official State Vault of Things We Rarely Think About.

Until the next time.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin changes his tune weekly at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com