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Resurrecting Pa.'s great state song debate

Plus, 'The Log' is indeed a goner.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.

January 20, 2023
Inside this edition: RIP to 'The Log,'  bridge sale, Pennsylvania tripping, 140 miles, Farm Show portraits, and the story of Pennsylvania's song.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
The Philadelphia Eagles are in the playoffs and the city's Crisco stockpile is still recovering from October. If they make it to the Super Bowl (*no jinxsies), it would be the team's fourth trip to the big game.

Now for the important stuff: What's the mascot's name? 

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One thing worth knowing: Last week we told you that a beaver dam threatened to end the original log from Robert Bush Sr.'s beloved, Pennsylvania-filmed YouTube series "The Log." On Sunday, Bush confirmed the log was indeed a goner, and the condolences poured in.

» One thing worth sharing: There's an old pair of piers from a defunct bridge up for sale in downtown Pittsburgh. What does one do with an old bridge pier? Maybe turn it into a rock climbing wall, WESA reports.

» One thing worth reading: The psychedelic aficionados over at Philly's SoundMind Institute will help train the first psilocybin — aka magic mushroom — therapy facilitators in the country in Oregon.

» One thing worth mourning: A black bear that was tranquilized, trapped, and released in Albany, NY, traveled 140 miles to Pennsylvania, where it was hit and killed on State Route 11 near Danville.

» One thing worth seeing: PennLive photographer Sean Simmers' black-and-white photo essay from the 2023 Pennsylvania Farm Show.

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Democrat Josh Shapiro sworn in as Pa.'s 48th governor
» Josh Shapiro's unusually opaque transition to governor
» Pa. court affirms Dem-chosen special election dates
» Pa. county's 2020 recount yields no significant changes
» How a Pa. constitutional amendment gets on the ballot
» Who has Gov. Shapiro nominated for his cabinet?
» Shapiro fills key posts with loyal allies, political vets
» Join a free panel on Pa.'s patchwork of local governments
Support Spotlight PA's independent, nonpartisan journalism for Pennsylvania.
A person in a hellbender costume poses with state lawmakers in Harrisburg.
Pennsylvania has an official state amphibian, the hellbender, seen here celebrating the distinction with state lawmakers. Turns out Pennsylvania has a state song too, something lots of people were surprised to learn this week. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Minutes before Gov. Josh Shapiro took the oath of office this week, the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus delivered a stirring rendition of Pennsylvania’s state song that caught even lifers off guard.

“Pennsylvania has a state song?!?! Lived here since the day I was born and did not know that,” @idealskeptic tweeted

That sense of surprise was shared by plenty of others, while the song choice itself was both challenged and defended

We’ve been here before, both on prior inauguration days and decades ago when the push to adopt a state song really hit its stride in Harrisburg, unleashing lots of strong feelings about what it should and shouldn’t be, and whether one was even needed.

Former state Rep. James Gallen (R., Berks) certainly thought it was, writing his own ditty to that effect: “Without a song, no way to celebrate,” he offered. “Without a song, Pa. is out of date.”

Pennsylvania's Historical and Museum Commission says suggestions included Billy Joel’s “Allentown” — a song Allentown itself learned to hate; “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John; “Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania” by Guy Mitchell; “Camptown Races” by Pittsburgh’s own Stephen Foster; and the venerable “Pennsylvania Polka.” 

But Pennsylvania lawmakers went in a different direction and landed on an original composition with more copyright flexibility.

It’s called “Pennsylvania,” and it was written by Ronnie Bonner and Eddie Khoury and formally adopted by the state in 1990, beating out runners-up like "Pennsylvania - Gee! It's Great!" and several other tunes also named “Pennsylvania,” a word that rhymes with almost nothing. 

Eddie Khoury, a retired administrator with the Philadelphia prison system, told the AP (paywall) in 1989: "When you throw 200 to 300 songs in the pot and yours comes out on top, you've got to have an element of luck."

"Pennsylvania" by Khoury and Bonner — a longtime Philadelphia-area songwriting team — was written decades earlier and recommended to the legislature by a committee of music educators and professionals. 

For years, lawmakers had offered competing song options, most playing to their regional constituencies. State Rep. Merle Phillips (R., Northumberland) was among the lawmakers to vote against "Pennsylvania," saying at the time (paywall), "I had introduced a song ... that I thought was nicer."

State Rep. Gerard Kosinski (D., Philadelphia) added: "In my mind, the only state song is 'Pennsylvania Polka.'" 

Still, the backers of "Pennsylvania" won out and this state became the 49th out of 50 to adopt an official jam, leaving only New Jersey without one. 

A Spotlight PA colleague said this week that the winning “Pennsylvania” — a no-frills, two verse-two chorus anthem — sounds like “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” and now I can’t unhear it. (You decide.)

But it’s got more college fight song to it and lots more references to vanquishing tyranny and proclaiming freedom.

A recurring criticism of the song is that it's slightly stodgy compared to some of the others nationwide: "Georgia on My Mind" in, you guessed it, Georgia, and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma," to name a few. Some states even have official rock and folk songs.

"Pennsylvania" is neither. Here’s the hook. Everybody now.

“Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania,               
May your future be,            
filled with honor everlasting                
as your history.” 

But nothing says there can only be one state song. West Virginia has no fewer than four, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” among them.

The issue then maybe isn't whether Pennsylvania picked the right or wrong state song but rather why it didn't pick more of them. It's not too late.

If lawmakers are to ever consider giving “Pennsylvania” some company, they could pick a "state polka song," a "state rock song," a "state waltz," anything really. May I recommend another “Pennsylvania,” this one performed by South African singer-songwriter Matthew Mole

What songs do you think should be in Pennsylvania’s official rotation? Let me know at the email address linked below.

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor 

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» NEWS QUIZ: Another big week of Pennsylvania news is wrapping up. Let’s see how closely you were paying attention with the first installment of Spotlight PA's new weekly news quiz. Good luck!
Our favorite photo of the week submitted by a PA Local reader.

Mr. Rogers — the patron saint of Virginia payphones — at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, via @lora_exploresSend us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A wax figure of Fred Rogers in a recreation of the set from his TV show.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
The Philadelphia Eagles mascot is named Swoop (accept no imitations).

Here's an excerpt from Swoop's official bio
  • Height: 6'3"​
  • Weight: 216 lbs.
  • Position: Center of Attention
  • Jersey: #00
  • Diet: Smaller birds such as Cardinals, Falcons, Ravens, and Seahawks; and of course cheesesteaks and soft pretzels
  • Hatched: Eagles forest, Neshaminy State Park in Bensalem, Pa.
  • Resides: In the Eagles Nest high atop Lincoln Financial Field
Find more questions like this in Spotlight PA's new weekly news quiz

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

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