NORTH CAROLINA NEEDS A NEW STATE SONG. Our old one (Remember it? Didn't think so.) is, well, old and, at best, forgettable. (Although my lovely and talented wife could, when I quizzed her, as I am wont to do, sing major parts of it verbatim. With no reflection on her vocal talents, it was not a pleasant experience.) It is a nineteenth century song, and sounds about 175 years out of date -- as it is. Besides, "The Old North State" is a highly partisan song -- really -- first receiving statewide attention during the 1840 presidential campaign -- at a Whig rally in Raleigh.
Written in 1835 by William Gaston, the current state anthem begins "Carolina! Carolina! Heaven's blessings attend her, while we live we will cherish, protect and defend her. Tho' the scorner may sneer at and witlings defame her, still our hearts swell with gladness whenever we name her." Hurrah! indeed. It is possibly the most defensive state song ever concocted. And the tune was stolen from a travelling Swiss bell choir. Surely, even we witlings can do better.
I have a candidate to propose as our new state song -- but first let me dispense with the other pretenders to the office.
"Carolina in the Morning" (with words by Gus Kahn and music by Walter Donaldson) has been a popular song since 1922 -- making it only about a century out of date. It is a clever little ditty -- nothing could be finah -- but Kahn was born in Germany, immigrated to the Chicago, worked in New York and died in LA, and Donaldson, who was born in Brooklyn, also died in LA. It is not clear either of them ever took more than a drive through North Carolina. Case closed.
"Carolina in My Mind," by native North Carolinian James Taylor, has its merits. But consider this: Taylor has lived for decades in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. "In his mind," and for the occasional concert, is the only way Taylor makes it down here. Case closed.
"Carolina Girls" by General Johnson and the Chairmen of the Board is pleasant beach music to which to shag -- but General Johnson, of Virginia, formed his band in Detroit and several of the current Chairmen hail from South Carolina -- where they think the song is about them. ( "Carolina Girls" tied for first place [with Taylor's "Carolina in My Mind"] in voting for the South Carolina Information Highway soundtrack.) Case closed.
The composers of my state song nominee reside in our own Wilkes County. The Krüger Brothers are comprised of Uwe Krüger, one of the best guitar pickers you'll ever hear, Joel Landsberg, one of the best bass players I've ever heard, and Jens Krüger, who is often introduced as "arguably the best banjo player in the world" (to which I commonly respond: "Who is arguing and what are they arguing about?")
"Carolina in the Fall" is not your traditional, formal, almost elegiac state anthem, it is a love song -- to our state. Written by a person who, having travelled the world, now knows "since I've been there where I was meant to be," the song falls loosely in the bluegrass ballad tradition the Krügers learned from the records of North Carolinian Doc Watson.
The Krügers are not NC natives -- those born here because of their ancestors' decisions -- they are immigrants to the Brushy Mountains, coming from the Alps of Switzerland. Like many here in picturesque North Carolina, they live here because they love it here.
And it is not foremost the topography, or the botany, or the climate, that lured the Krügers, and some others of us, to North Carolina; it is the welcoming people. As they put it: "In the hills of Carolina, folks have opened up the door, for the first time in my life I'm not a stranger anymore."
Read the words to the song's chorus and tell me this wouldn't make for a lovely state song:
"I've seen sunsets on the ocean. I've seen the desert bloom.
I've driven endless highways beneath a prairie moon.
Yet the picture in my mind I see when I think about it all
Is the color of the leaves in Carolina in the fall."
Listen to the delightful tune on YouTube (search for "Kruger Brothers, Carolina in the Fall") -- and sing along. Then join me in the campaign to make it the official state song.
Gary D. Gaddy is an immigrant to North Carolina, coming all the way from Danville, Virginia.
A version of this story is set to be published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday May 7, 2010.
Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy