In a belated urge to learn the first thing about my home state’s glorious past, I recently ordered a bunch of books on Florida history. My favorite of the lot so far, Miami Beach: Blueprint of an Eden, tells the story of Miami’s transformation from swamp to swank through the correspondence of two prominent families, the Wolfsons and the Okas. Along with a unique collection of photos, blueprints, and recipes, it included the handwritten sheet music of a traditional Florida folk tune called “The Orange Blossom Song,” which was “sung … by school children all over the state of Florida until the 1960s,” according to the caption. “A true folk song, it was passed along by music teachers on hand written sheet music or by the human voice. When standardized sheet music was introduced in Florida schools in the sixties, the song disappeared from the classroom.”
When I searched “Orange Blossom” online, I found out about a controversy over the Florida state song, Stephen Foster’s 1851 “Old Folks at Home” — aka “Swanee River” — which is sung from the point of view of a slave reminiscing about his childhood on the plantation. For obvious reasons, some people think Florida should adopt a new song, perhaps one that doesn’t look on slavery with nostalgia. As it turns out, “The Orange Blossom Song” is in the running with other tunes, including Chet Atkin’s “Florida’s Song.” In the “Orange Blossom” corner is another Stephen, one Stephen Ulrey, a Temple Terrace elementary teacher who recorded an updated version featuring a chorus of his students.
Never one to pass up a folk-song battle with a bunch of hopeful school-age children, I went ahead and recorded my own version of “The Orange Blossom Song.” Seriously, I love the folk tradition of passing songs along and I wanted to do my part. (More seriously, however, I love to outshine school-age children in an unsolicited contest of musical ability.) Hope you enjoy.