“Go Mississippi!,” the state’s official song for the past 60 years, is apparently going, going, gone with the wind.
The song written and recorded by songwriter-musician Houston Davis needs only Gov. Tate Reeves’ signature to join the old state flag in the Great Beyond, not to be heard again, at least in ceremonial circles.
Reeves has until April 23 to sign into law House Bill 453, which includes a provision designating Greenville native Steve Azar’s “One Mississippi” as the sanctioned state song. The matter is included in legislation appropriating millions of dollars aimed at promoting the state.
The bill also creates a study committee to consider other songs that “Mississippians may enjoy … that are appropriate for all occasions, events and daily activities.” The group would report its findings to the Legislature by Dec. 31.
“Go Mississippi!” became the state song May 17, 1962, according to the “Blue Book,” a miscellany published quadrennially by the secretary of state’s office. The Jackson Board of Realtors had undertaken “the task of finding a satisfactory song to represent the State of Mississippi,” a Blue Book blurb noted. Lyrics of “Go Mississippi!” followed.
“I Am Mississippi,” written and relentlessly promoted to lawmakers by the late entertainer and wildlife conservationist Paul Ott as a possible new state song, could be one considered, and doubtless is the choice of many citizens familiar with its lyrics.
Davis, who also was a justice of the peace in Hinds County, wrote campaign songs for the late former Gov. Ross Barnett. One composition, “Roll With Ross,” included the lines, “For segregation, one hundred percent,” and “He’ll fight integration with forceful intent.”
“Go Mississippi!” has been under fire for its association with Barnett, a devout segregationist, and carried a rhythm similar to the Barnett campaign anthem. Thus, its official status was in jeopardy – much like the old state flag that incorporated the Confederate battle flag in its canton.
Reeves in 2020 signed into law a bill passed by legislators to create a new state flag. Later, voters selected the new flag featuring a magnolia blossom and the national motto “In God We Trust” in its center. There’s been no mention of a referendum for state songs.
The Clarion Ledger’s Todd Price reported in March that after Azar’s “One Mississippi” was chosen by representatives as the new state song, senators chose a trio of songs to be considered: Azar’s song, “Miss the Mississippi and You” by country music legend Jimmie Rodgers of Meridian and “Crossroads” by Robert Johnson of Hazlehurst, considered as the “founder” of Mississippi Delta Blues. The Rodgers and Johnson efforts are likely alternative choices.
“Azar distills the entire state, from its food and culture to landscapes and strength in the face of disasters, into a 5-minute song,” Price reported. One of Azar’s lines reads, “I’ll breathe Mississippi ‘till I’m dead and gone.”
The song by Rodgers, considered by most observers as the “father of country music,” is believed to be the work that “meets the melodic and lyrical requirements for a state song.” One line romanticizes, “Mockingbirds are singing ‘round the cabin door, while I dream of Mississippi and you.”
Johnson’s composition offers the belief that the bluesman sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads – theorized to be located at the intersection of highways 61 and 49 near Clarksdale – “in exchange for his musical talents,” Price wrote. “Johnson falls to his knees and begs God for mercy.”
For now, the Teddy Bear, Natchez silt loam, square dances, milk, mockingbirds, and honeybees, among others, seem safe as “state symbols.”
Mac Gordon is a native of McComb. He is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at email@example.com.