The State Song, or, How I Learned to Spell

“Montana, Montana, Glory of the West

Of all the states from coast to coast you’re easily the best

Montana, Montana, where skies are always blue

M-O-N-T-A-N-A, Montana, I love you!”

This is a much different post than the one I thought I was going to write. I thought that I was going to write about how little I cared for Montana’s state song. For one thing, the tune brings to mind echoing renditions of a high school fight song played in an over-crowded gym by an ill-prepared pep band. For another, I took to heart the oft-repeated bit of trivia that some East Coaster had written the thing. Having grown up alongside the “Made in Montana” brand, the thought that an East Coaster wrote our state song was unthinkable to me.

"Bitterroot to me is dear/growing in my land."Photo by Drake Barton.
“Bitterroot to me is dear/growing in my land.”Photo by Drake Barton.

Fortunately, before I wrote this piece, I managed to do just a little bit of research. My first surprise came when I learned that the song consisted of more than just the chorus. Multiple verses even! With decent lyrics! “Mountains of sunset fire/the land I love the best.” “Each bloom brings a longing hope/to some lonely heart.” “Sing then that glorious air/the one I understand.” Lyrics like these add at least some depth to the our state is the best because we can spell attitude in the chorus. So there went one paragraph down the drain. I can’t very well criticize a bit of poetry that I found not half bad, although the spelling still gets me. Showing off your spelling ability in the middle of a song never, ever makes good music. Nat King Cole and L-O-V-E is the exception that proves the rule. Being thoroughly non-musical in every way, I still stand by my assessment of the tune as campy, insipid, and sounding like a cheap imitation of a bad high school fight song.

"Tell of its beauties grand...Mountains of sunset fire."
“Tell of its beauties grand…Mountains of sunset fire.”

Next, I planned to complain that a non-Montanan wrote the song. I’ve been told that my rampart Montana-centrism could use some reigning in, but you have to admit that it makes sense to want the official state song of any state to be written by a resident of the state. I’m none too keen on an East Coaster writing Montana’s state song, but I would be equally skeptical of a Montanan writing the state song of, say, Kansas (in part because it would probably include the line “this state is great, but Montana is better”). Again, before I did any ranting I decided to look into the facts a little bit. In 1910 Broadway composer Joseph Howard toured Montana with his theater group. At an after party in Butte, it was suggested that he should compose a song about Montana. The hostess, one Mrs. Largey by name, introduced him to Butte Miner editor Charles C. Cohan and the two retired to the music room (the after party was in the sort of house with a music room to which one could retire). They hashed out the song in a matter of hours, Howard creating the melody and Cohan contributing the lyrics. Which means we probably have Mrs. Largey’s libations to blame for the spelling bee in the chorus. The song became an instant hit. The creators donated the rights to the Shodair Children’s Hospital. James J. Hill of the Great Northern immediately printed up copies to include in the railroad’s promotional material. In the 1940s it became the official song of Montana. In fact the song has a fun little history, and one that, I suppose, we can be proud of.

The facts for this post came from MontanaKids, which is seriously one of the best Montana history/facts websites out there. The views expressed are entirely my own.

"Let me grasp the hand of one/From out the golden West."
“Let me grasp the hand of one/From out the golden West.”

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