It’s National Poetry Month, and our department has several collections involving poetry. One of particular interest may be the Iowa Sheet Music Collection, MS 474, a collection of songs by Iowa songwriters and/or about Iowa. Songs, as you may know, are essentially poetry set to music (one could even argue that music is a sort of poetry, but let’s not go there today). Within the collection, the songs about Iowa truly showcase Iowa pride in the early 20th century.
Iowa pride. It’s an actual thing, though people not from Iowa may wonder why on earth anyone would be proud to come from this state. As someone who spent a couple years out of state, I’ve gotten my share of “what do you… like… DO there?” and “do you mean Ohio?” or, “oh, you grow potatoes there, right?” No, we are not Idaho, nor Ohio, nor should it warrant a disappointed or pitying reaction. I missed my home state quite a lot when I was in Indiana (even though southern Indiana is a beautiful place). Sure I missed my family, my friends, my dog, my favorite restaurants… but I also missed the land itself. It can be very beautiful with its rolling hills and patchwork quilt fields. But above all, it’s home. I love it, and lots of other Iowans love it, too. Now before I get carried away and go on and on about the understated awesomeness that is Iowa, let’s focus on other people’s love letters to this state – in that form of poetry loved so well, song.
“Iowa, Proud Iowa,” pictured above, is a poem by Virginia K. Logan, set to music by Frederic Knight Logan. On the inside cover is a list of Iowa facts, including its pronunciation – “I’-o-wah.” A few other fun facts listed include “First settled near the present site of Dubuque by French, in 1788,” “A leading state in agricultural interests, fine livestock raising, and coal and lead mines,” and “Iowa’s State Motto: – ‘Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain.’” The first verse of the song is as follows:
“All hail! Iowa, Queen of the West!
With her broad rolling prairies so fertile and blest
Where cool shady streams flow ‘mid verdure so rare,
With Iowa’s beauty no state can compare.”
Another song, “The New Iowa Song: Iowa I Love Best,” was written and composed by Coe Pettit, 1925. It was dedicated to the Kiwanis Club of McGregor, Iowa, which sponsored the publishing of the song. For your reading pleasure, here is the third verse:
“I thought I’d like to travel, I thought I’d like to roam,
So then to realize my dreams, I wandered far from home;
Now since I’ve seen the others, I know what I like best;
I’ll take my good old Iowa, And they can have the rest.”
“Iowa Corn Song,” pictured above, was written by J. T. Beeston with the chorus written by G. E. Hamilton. Beeston was the director of the Za-Ga-Zig Temple All Shrine Band, who played this song in Des Moines and “all conclaves” in 1921. It is also titled “The Official Za-Ga-Zig’s ‘Iowa Corn Song’.” The first verse of the song goes as follows:
“Of all the states in the U.S.A. There’s only one for me,
It’s the good old state of I O A and we’re proud of her by gee,
We’re a bunch of corn-fed shriners, full of mirth and merry jest,
Our Temple it’s Za-Ga-Zig, all shrinedom knows the rest.”
Here’s the chorus:
“We’re from I O A, I O A,
From that grand old land trav’ling o’er the sand,
We’re from I O A, I O A,
That’s where the tall corn grows.”
“On a Little Farm in Iowa,” by Fred Howard and Nat Vincent, 1936, is referred to in the sheet music as “the new Iowa Corn Song” and the “state theme song.” It was used by Farm Folks Hour, Hawkeye Dinnertime, and Tall Corn Gang on the Iowa Br0adcasting System. The following is a verse and the very start of the chorus (which is most of the song):
“Yesterday I met a stranger,
Far away from his home town
And his tear filled eyes, made me realize,
How I long to settle down,
[Chorus] On a little farm in I-O-WAY
Where the folks are happy all the day…”
“I’m From Iowa (That Beautiful Iowa Song),” picture above, was written by Alice E. Snow with music by Clifford R. Snow and published in Goldfield, Iowa. The first verse follows a familiar theme:
“I’m a long way from home,
For I’m out on a roam;
And the world seems sad to me,
I would give all I own for a note from home sweet home;
From those friends I am longing to see,”
And the chorus also contains something familiar:
“Oh I’m from Iowa
Yes she is queen of the west
I’ll say that she is the best
That’s where I’m goin’
I can hear the cattle lowin’
Out in my home in the west.”
Either “queen of the west” was a common phrase for Iowa at the time, or this alludes back to “Iowa, Proud Iowa.” Either way, it’s interesting. The other theme here and throughout much of this list is homesickness. Clearly, it has played a significant role in the love for Iowa. So many of these songs convey a sense of longing for the author’s homeland, it makes one wonder whether this is common with all places, or if there is something different about Iowa that draws people’s thoughts back here. A discussion for another day, perhaps.
“Flag of Iowa” was penned by Mrs. Laura Wright in the hope of it being incorporated into the classroom in Iowa schools to familiarize students with the state flag. No year is given on the sheet music, as it simply says “Copyright applied for,” but based on information about the flag provided on the back of the music, the design of the state flag was made official in March 1921. Presumably, this song was written not too long after. The first verse is as follows:
“Dear old flag of Iowa. Wave, O, Wave.
You’re the emblem of a noble state. Wave, O, Wave.
For an hundred years she’s battled for the right
And we pledge our allegiance,
We’ll never give up the fight to keep her honor bright.”
Last to be featured here, but by no means least, is “Iowa,” written by Iowa’s own Meredith Willson, 1944. As many from this state know, Willson, who came from Mason City, wrote and composed the Broadway and cinematic hit The Music Man. The song pictured above was performed by none other than Bing Crosby. Here is the introduction and first part of the chorus:
That’s how they sing it in the Tall Corn Song
Other people call it I-”O”-WA
And they’re both just a little bit wrong.
[Chorus] I-O-WA, it’s a beautiful name
When you say it like we say it back home
It’s the robin in the willows,
It’s the post-master’s friendly hello.
I-O-WA, it’s a beautiful name
You’ll remember it where ever you roam;
It’s the sumac in September,
It’s the squeak of your shoes in the snow.”
Yet another song that harkens back to an earlier song on this list! Several of the songs in the collection use “Ioway” as a pronunciation, though of course no one today pronounces it that way. Mr. Willson has the right of it. And again, there is a hint of homesickness in this song. Oh, what papers could be written on this subject (hint, hint).
Keep in mind that this is only a small selection of the songs in the Iowa Sheet Music Collection. To see more, as well as songs not about Iowa but by Iowa songwriters, stop in and see us sometime!