Playing our song
By MELANIE AVE
Published March 7, 2007
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 downhomebluesband.com.