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Playing our song

Published March 7, 2007

[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Charles Atkins plays his original tune Florida's Song outside the state Capitol in Tallahassee on Tuesday evening.

It was meant for Ray Charles but now an obscure tune by a little-known Tallahassee blues musician is being touted as a potential replacement for Florida's official state song.

Even Gov. Charlie Crist has mentioned Florida's Song by Charles Atkins as a contender if lawmakers drop Old Folks at Home.

On Tuesday, Atkins, and the Boys' Choir of Tallahassee played Florida's Song during an outdoor reception at the state Capitol at the end of the first day of the 2007 Legislature.

"I sing it wherever I go," said Atkins, an artist-in-residence at the Blues Lab at Florida State University's School of Music.

In January, Crist broke with tradition and used Atkins' song during his inauguration instead of Stephen Foster's famous but derided state song.

Better known as Way Down Upon the Suwannee River, some lawmakers want to send the official Florida song down the river because it refers to "darkeys" longing for the plantation. Crist said he would sign legislation creating a new state song.

Atkins, 62, said he wrote his song after the legendary Ray Charles was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 1992.

A reporter asked Charles why he didn't sing a song about Florida like Georgia on My Mind, his No. 1 hit from 1960 that Georgia lawmakers made the state song in 1979.

If someone writes a Florida song, I'll happily sing it, said Charles, who developed much of his musical talent at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.

Atkins, who also attended the St. Augustine school, was there that day and decided to write a rival to Georgia on My Mind.

A few months before Ray Charles' death in 2004, the two men met in Los Angeles and Atkins played the song for his idol.

"He stamped his feet about three times and spun around like three times," Atkins recalled. "He said, 'I like that. I like that.' He said, 'Play it again.'

"He was on the other end of the keys playing along with me. It was a little glory for me to sit there and do that with him."

Atkins, who won the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 2002, has long hoped his tune would become the state's official song. He's not alone.

Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, who invited Atkins to play Florida's Song at Tuesday's reception, said it would be an ideal state song.

"It represents the many, many facets of our state," Marks said, "the diversity of our state and the inclusiveness of our state."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at (727) 893-8813 or

The lyrics

'Florida's Song'

By Charles Atkins

On the southern coast of North America

Just as far to the South as you can go

Under the sun where mighty oceans run

Is a land that I shall always know


Florida, oh Florida

Your flowers grow your rivers roll along

When other hopes and dreams are gone

Your blessings will live on

Florida, you're my home sweet home

On the south most tip of North America

Is where begins my fondest memory

Of a land that I know

A place where I must go

And claim for me my liberty

Source: Excerpts from the Charles Atkins Blues Band

For an audio clip, go to


[Last modified March 7, 2007, 10:28:29]

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