Oklahomans are justifiably proud fact that their state song hails from a landmark 1943 American musical. And while no other state can make that claim, numerous other states have also been memorialized in song. Nearly half of the 50 states have no musical theater connection at all, but for those that do, few can compare favorably to the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.
In fact, many states are spoken of disparagingly. Consider “I’m Tired of Texas,” a song from “Look Ma, I’m Dancin’!” that refers to the Lone Star State as being “the rear end of the USA.” Montana gets similar treatment in the musical “Whoop Up.” The lyric suggests that Montana is “one-third rock and two-thirds dust” and goes on to say that “you live here only if you must.” In 2005, the Sooner State found its way into “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” a hit musical in which the singer poked fun at Oklahoma but also referred to it as “my little piece of heaven.”
Our neighbor Arkansas is unfortunately saddled with one of the musical theater’s most inane examples: a hokey two-step from the Huckleberry Finn-inspired “Big River.” Other states receive a mixture of praise and condemnation, including “Iowa Stubborn” from “The Music Man.” The townsfolk talk about their willingness to accept outsiders but then speak with pride about their “chip on the shoulder attitude.”
The Amish celebrate the bountiful fall harvest in “Plenty of Pennsylvania” (“Plain and Fancy”), while a boastful Richard Henry Lee tries to impress John Adams with the accomplishments of his venerable Virginia family in “The Lees of Old Virginia” (“1776″). In the Richard Rodgers musical “No Strings,” Maine gets a “Green Acres”-type number in which the romantic leads battle it out over where each prefers to live: he in rural Maine; she, north of Central Park in New York.
Texas can lay claim to a half-dozen show tunes, although neither “Texas Has a Whorehouse in It” nor “I’m Leavin’ Texas,” from “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and its ill-fated sequel, do their state proud. New York has found its way into more than a dozen songs, most praising the joys of living there: “A Day in New York” (“Meet Me in St. Louis”), “You Can Be a New Yorker Too” (“Mayor”) and “When You’re Far Away from New York Town” (“Jennie”).
Several musical theater-related songs have impressive pedigrees thanks to the accomplishments of their composer/lyricists, from George and Ira Gershwin’s “Cactus Time in Arizona” to Irving Berlin’s “Louisiana Purchase.” And tuneful though they are, the songs “Gary, Indiana” (“The Music Man”), “Kansas City” (“Oklahoma!”), “Travelin’: In Louisiana” (“Sugar Babies”) and “New York, New York” (“On the Town”) can’t match “Oklahoma” for inspiration and sheer musical pleasure.