Swanee River

Old Folks at Home is the state song of Florida. The song is better known as “Swanee River” or “Suwannee River”. The song was written by Stephen Foster in 1851 for a minstrel show.

Miami, Florida

Foster had completed the majority of the lyrics but was still struggling with the opening line. His brother made a few suggestions including Yazoo {in Mississippi}and Pee Dee {in South Carolina}. Foster is reported to say  “Oh pshaw! I won’t have that.”

Upon consulting an atlas his brother called “Suwannee”. Foster said, “That’s it, exactly!” Adding it to the lyrics, he purposely misspelled it as “Swanee” to fit the melody. According to MyFlorida website, “The Suwannee River flows in a southerly direction from the Okeefenokee Swamp in Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. The river separates the Florida panhandle from the rest of the state.”

Upon writing the song, Foster was paid by E.P Christy to receive credit for the song. Early printings of the song credit Christy as the author. Foster later came to regret this agreement. Christy was a businessman who operated minstrel shows.

In 1935, the song became the official state song for Florida due to the tourism the song evoked. However, Stephen Foster never visited Florida or saw the Swanee River.

Over time the lyrics have been progressively altered to not be as offensive as the original, which reflected those of a slave. The song is written from the first person version of the slave at a time when slavery was still legal in fifteen of the states. The start of the Civil War was a decade away from the writing of the song. In 2008, the revised lyrics were officially signed into law, along with Florida {Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky} as the new state anthem.

Gulf of Mexico, where the Swanee River begins

Joel Whitburn wrote in his book “Pop Memories 1890-1954”  “Old Folks at Home” was the best-selling sheet music song of the period, with over twenty million copies sold.

A memorial center at White Springs, Florida, honors Foster, who authored about 200 popular songs during his prolific career.

Foster wrote other hits such as Camptown Races, My Old Kentucky Home, Jennie with the Light Brown Hair, Beautiful Dreamer, Oh!Susanna and Hard Times Come Again No More.



Photos courtesy of Pixabay.com