The Missouri Waltz is the official state song of Missouri. The exact origin of the melody is the subject of debate, and even the lyricist wrote under several different names, including James Royce, James Royce Shannon, and Jim Shannon. The song achieved national popularity in the mid-1940s during Harry S. Truman’s presidential run despite the fact that he reportedly did not care much for it. When Truman became president, state representative Floyd Snyder suggested that it become the official state song of Missouri. After some of the lyrics, which were considered by some to be racially insensitive, were rewritten, the Missouri Waltz was adopted in June 1949.
The melody of the Missouri Waltz existed for many years before lyrics were written to go with it. Most historians credit the music to John Eppel, an orchestra leader in Iowa, but he may have heard it first from a number of different African American performers and musicians in various parts of the Midwest. Eventually, the song found its way to Frederick Knight Logan, who developed an original arrangement and sold it in 1914 to the Forster Publishing Company in Chicago. At that point, Jim Shannon was hired to write lyrics to accompany the waltz, and the future state song of Missouri was born.
After the song was played at the 1944 Democratic National Convention, at which Truman received the nomination for vice president, it continued to grow in popularity. A White House statement during Truman’s presidency said that he did not like the song very much, but this did not deter the movement to make it the state song of Missouri. Opponents claimed that it was not appropriate because it contained racist lyrics and did not say anything in particular about the state itself, but the supporters of the song prevailed after some of the offensive words were changed.
The words of the Missouri Waltz sound like a lullaby, and it was published with the original title Hush-A-Bye Ma Baby (Missouri Waltz). The opening lines are “Hush-a-bye, ma baby, slumbertime is comin' soon; Rest yo' head upon my breast while Mommy hums a tune; The sandman is callin' where shadows are fallin', While the soft breezes sigh as in days long gone by.” The mother is singing to her baby about her memories of Dixieland, where her mother sang the same melody to her as a child. The state song of Missouri was most likely passed down through many generations as a lullaby before it reached its current status as a state symbol.