Changing Our Tune

For a long time I’ve lived uneasily with the assumption that most of the people I know who love music (and I know a lot of them) either don’t know that the state song of Mississippi is an embarrassment or just shrug it off as one of life’s ironies.

Well, it’s time for all that to change. People, let me tell you the ugliest open secret in Mississippi: the official song of our state is former Governor Ross Barnett’s campaign ditty. Let’s not get into how it happened; suffice it to say that when the legislature made “Go, Mississippi” the state song, the Old Guard was still in place, and for them Governor Barnett was symbolic of a poor, downtrodden state standing up to the might of the federal government.

Still and all, Barnett was an icon for all the wrong reasons, and for us to wear his campaign doggerel on our chest is no badge of honor. To be fair, the august members of the Mississippi legislature are for the most part concerned with far more pressing issues than the selection of a state song. Not only that, while deciding what our state song should be seems innocuous, it’s actually fraught with as yet unspecified potential controversy. But this decision rests with legislators, so it’s up to us as citizens to bring the issue to their attention. I’m not one to suggest how, since the signals I’ve sent to my local legislators have been either ignored or responded to with ridicule, derision and dismissal, but–fool that I am–I find that no reason not to keep trying, even if I get shot before it’s all over with.

I’ve already been threatened by a tall gnome with a yard rake.

Still and all, before we get into deciding what it should be, let me point out that our sister state Tennessee has no less than six state songs. Both Arkansas and Louisiana have two each. Some state songs you already know by heart, many you’ll know when you hear them. Our state song is obscure (for good reason) and singular, an astonishing fact in the home state of Robert Johnson, Jimmy Rodgers and Elvis Presley. I mention these three because to me they represent the three main currents in Mississippi music: blues, country and rock. Oh, we can bring in any number of other artists, and we could bring in bluegrass, hip-hop, what have you.

The point I’m trying to make, and it’s important, is that Mississippi takes a great, great deal of pride in her music, and for us to have this blot on our escutcheon makes us look bad. It’s a minor point; God knows we have other things to work on, but this is something we all, and I do mean all, can take pride in changing. It’s going to take time, but let’s tune up.


15 Replies to “Changing Our Tune”

  1. Mississippi’s “state song” is indeed an embarrassment. Anytime our much beloved Magnolia State comes under the gun from its detractors for its not always particularly positive public image, we can always shut them up fast with just a cursory recitation of our contributions to literature and music. They have to back off every time and admit that in those two areas, no other state can hold a candle. The smug superiority of the native son, though, falls flatter than a Delta highway when they want to know what our state song is.

    Even the title is double edged. Go Mississippi? It would seem quite often that the other 49 wish we would. Anywhere, and the farther away, the better. Just so long, I suppose, as we don’t take our music with us.

    Anyway, trying to pick and choose which of our Mississippi singers and songwriters to so honor could easily tie up a session of the state solons. Shoot, it could even bring about our own civil war among the devotees of blues, jazz, country, gospel, rock and roll, folk, bluegrass, classical. Name your genre and Mississippi dominates the field, except maybe classical, but just starting with William Grant Stills, Mississippi is no slouch there either.

    Well, I got to thinking about Mississippi and how much we love the place even when we have found ourselves for any number of reasons in exile. There’s something there in our hearts, souls, and minds we carry with us and nothing so much as a song sets it churning.

    In my own case, whenever the longing for home has needed some expression, ever since I left my land of birth and roots as a young Turk, there is one that always comes to mind to soothe the troubled spirit. It’s Jesse Winchester’s “Mississippi, You’re on My Mind.” Oh, I know that the state legislators might have a hard time making something written by a Vietnam draft dodger living in Canada the state song. But, what better a symbol for a state which has sent so many of its talented sons and daughters elsewhere, fleeing all those socio-economic factors for which we are infamous, sons and daughters who, nevertheless, remain loyal to that cradle that rocked them?

    Politics aside, though, who among us has never felt the way Jesse Winchester felt, whether we left or stayed?

  2. Politics aside, Go Mississippi is an awful tune. Our state deserves better. Another tune to consider is Jim Weatherly’s “Mississippi Song”.

      1. Glad you enjoyed it. I only just today realized that WP notifies me of replies…. had quite a bit of commenting with which to catch up!

  3. I am, too, Elaine. I remember seeing Ray Charles perform “Georgia on My Mind” in the Georgia General Assembly in March, 1979, and it was adopted as the state song a month later. I’d so love so see something like that happen here in Mississippi.

  4. Well, I sent the word to two very good singer, song/writers from MS. Let’s see if something comes up. Personally, I love what AL came up with. It’s just something the people loved. THEY chose it and the legislature just went along.

  5. I, too, am partial to “Mississippi, You’re On My Mind,” but it will never get serious consideration. (Note: JW did a concert at the Coliseum years ago and did NOT sing the song. Too painful?) There’s also ZZ Top, “My Head’s in Mississippi,” whatever the title is. Won’t work either. Bottom line: we need a clear and appealing alternative before we finally drive a stake into the heart of “Roll with Ross.” Ms. Vechorik, I hope your plan works.

  6. if we leave coming up with a new song to that collection of goobers down in the capitol then it will end up being a goober ass song…same thing with the flag. we just need to can it all…no song, no flag, no mascot, no bird, no mammal, no reptile…just can it all and get over it.

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