March 16: Connecticut Chooses An Official State Song


In late 1977, temporarily setting aside the politics of a struggling national economy and election-year posturing, the Connecticut General Assembly took up the task of selecting an official state song for the state of Connecticut.  The request for a state song first came from then-governor Ella Grasso’s predecessor, Thomas Meskill, who was reportedly sick of hearing Yale University’s fight song, “Boola Boola,” being played whenever he showed up at official functions as Governor.

On November 10, twenty musical groups — including a high school band, choral groups, and even a fife and drum corps — gathered at the state capitol to perform the top contenders for Connecticut’s state anthem, including a number of original songs written by Connecticut musicians.  One of the most popular choices, likely influenced by  the nostalgia for the American Revolution brought on by the nation’s bicentennial that was sweeping the country at the time, was the jaunty Revolutionary War tune “Yankee Doodle.”  Supporters of “Yankee Doodle” pointed out that the tune was catchy and patriotic and likely had Connecticut origins, while detractors claimed it reflected little about the state itself, and was originally penned to insult colonial Americans.

A Norman Rockwell mural on the walls of Nassau Tavern in Princeton, NJ depicts a scene from the Revolutionary War ditty — and Connecticut’s state song — “Yankee Doodle.”

After months of debate, Representative (and future governor) William O’Neill proposed replacing the word “girls” with “folks” in the chorus of “Yankee Doodle” in order to eliminate any possible hints of sexism the original song may have contained.  O’Neill’s proposal made “Yankee Doodle” palatable enough for the state House of Representatives to pass a motion making it Connecticut’s state song on March 9, 1978.  After voting down a proposal by then-state senator Joseph Lieberman to include a reference to “Boola Boola” in the agreed-upon lyrics, the state Senate followed suit, voting to make “Yankee Doodle” Connecticut official state song on March 16, 1978.

Further Reading

Lawrence Fellows, “Connecticut Seeks Tune to Strike the Right Chord as State Song,New York Times archives

Yankee Doodle,” Library of Congress