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Songs of Iowa

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

I don't recall that any state has had as hard a time choosing an official state song as Iowa. We're all familiar with "My Old Kentucky Home," "Maryland, My Maryland" and "Back Home in Indiana," but there's still not a song that will make all Iowans stand reverently.

Not that Iowans haven't tried. During the Civil War S. H. M. Byers of Des Moines promised himself that he would write a patriotic Iowa song to the tune of Tanenbaum. By 1897, the time had arrived. Byers' "Song of Iowa" was premiered to demands for encores is at the Foster Opera House in Des Moines. "You ask what land I love the best," the song goes, "Iowa 'tis Iowa, the fairest state of all the West, Iowa O Iowa." Iowa legislators made it the official Iowa state song in 1911, but the song slipped by the wayside.

Another Iowan, Tacitus Hussey, made a second attempt in 1899. But his song never found favor, perhaps due to the chorus: "Crown her! Crown her! Crown her! Crown her with corn, this Queen of the West."

In 1921, the Iowa Federation of Music Clubs made an attempt to have Virginia Logan's "Iowa Proud Iowa" designated as the state song. The last stanza made an unfortunate call for Iowa's young men to answer the call to arms, four years too late.

That same year, a Shriner's convention in Des Moines popularized "The Iowa Corn Song," written by George Hamilton, captain of the Za-Ga-Zig temple drill team, for parade use. The song became popular but perhaps too raucous for your average staid Iowan: "Our land is full of ripening corn," says one stanza, "Yo-ho-yo-ho-yo-ho, we've watched it grow both night and morn, yo-ho-yo-ho-yo-ho..."

Over the years there have been other attempts, but none has quite captured the essence of Iowa. A proper state song still needs to be written. If you are a patriotic Iowan with some time on your hands, you might give it a try. How hard can it be? Think of all the words that rhyme with "corn" and "hog."

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.