State song contest winner picked

Jan Hinton, right, holds up a plaque presented to her by Florida Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, left, after her song "Florida, Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky," was named the new Florida state song during a news conference Friday in Tampa.

The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 3:42 p.m.

TAMPA - It's not "Soulja Boy,'' or any of the other songs now at the top of pop charts. And it didn't get selected with a flood of public support, the way millions anoint their favorite "American Idol.''

But Florida is a step closer to getting a new state song, "Florida, Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky,'' a tune written by a South Florida music teacher that extols everything from the sunshine to the space industry.

The selection was announced Friday at the Florida Music Educators' Association conference with three versions: one sung by a chorus, a guitar solo and another that seemed suited for a piano bar.

Johnny Gaster, a 48-year-old musician who plays in bars around the Tampa Bay area, doesn't plan on singing the new song anytime soon. The recorded version submitted to the contest sounds like something in rotation on an easy-listening radio station.

"It sounds like 'O Canada,' '' Gaster said after playing a set in a plaza in downtown Tampa.

Some lawmakers pushed to replace Florida's current state song, Stephen Foster's "The Swanee River (Old Folks at Home),'' because many feel its lyrics are racist with their talk of plantations in the Old South. Gov. Charlie Crist shunned it at his inauguration last year, and the move launched an effort to find a replacement.

Just Sing Florida sponsored an online contest to replace Foster's song. The group got 8,020 votes for three finalists, and the winner got about 4,500 votes.

The new song's melody is slow, and features lyrics like, "Florida, land of flowers, land of life. Florida, where our dreams can all take flight.''

In the song, mockingbirds and alligators soak in the sun, orange blossoms scent the air and Florida sits proud in the ocean, "like a sentinel true.''

"It didn't seem up to date,'' said another Floridian asked about the song, Jim Petrossi, 27, of Tampa.

Lawmakers will have to accept the new song before it replaces Foster's. Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, and Rep. Ed Homan, R-Tampa, plan to sponsor bills that would designate the new tune as the state song.

Click here to listen to the new state song "Where the Saw Grass Meets the Sky," as well as the two songs that were under consideration.

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