Monday, April 02, 2018

F. B. Silverwood and Our State Song (Part 3)

Westminster, 1911: Hub of culture and the arts. (Photo near corner of Westminster Blvd. and Olive St.) Photo courtesy Orange County Archives
[Continued from Part 2]

In 1911, Orange County Assemblyman Clyde Bishop introduced a bill that would have made “California (Land of the Setting Sun)” – a 1907 song with words and music by Mrs. Harriet M. Burlingame of Westminster – our official state song. The effort failed but laid the groundwork for Silverwood’s success soon thereafter.

Burlingame’s lyrics – awkward and hokey, but a marked improvement over Gro’s – went like this:
A song to thee of loyalty. A song of the Golden West;
A land that lies ‘neath sunlit skies,
Beside the Pacific’s breast.

Thy native son and adopted one
From snowy climes agree
That heaven crowned this land renown—
Land by the Western sea.

California fair, California rare,
all nature sings to thee.
The balmy breeze, the fragrant trees,
the blue of sky and sea.
Mission bells sweet chimes,
as in olden times,
and the mocking birds in the vale,
Let the chorus rise to the sunny skies, Eureka California hail.

Thy hills hold wealth, thy breezes health,
thy valleys fruits and flowers.
Here the orange bright blends golden light
with the poppy pride of ours.
Oh, the lofty heights of Shasta white.
Oh, grand Yosemite.
From south to north thy fame goes forth
from Sierras to the sea.

We lowly bend, for heaven doth blend
with sunshine, shadows cold;
But God's above this land we love,
above the blue and gold.
So here we'll wait 'till the Golden Gate
shall ope when day is done.
Almighty Hand, hold thou our land,
"Land of the Setting Sun."
Assemblyman James W. Hamilton from Petaluma suggested that the work “Eureka” could be mistaken for the town of that name, and humbly recommended replacing the word with “Petaluma.” Legislator E. C. Hinkle of Sacramento objected to the mention of mockingbirds in the song, as he supported a law to legalize extermination of the noisy little bastards.

Milton Schmitt of San Francisco, looking down his nose at both the song and Orange County, recommended the matter be referred to the Committee on Overflow and Swamp Lands. (Schmitt was also among the few California legislators to vote against women’s suffrage that year.) Ultimately, the Speaker could find no committee suited to judge music, and in desperation passed the matter to the Judiciary Committee. The committee reviewed the bill and recommended passage with the proviso that Mr. Bishop sing the ditty, opera-style, on the floor of the Assembly. One member asked, "Wouldn't Bishop look cute in tights?"
O.C. Assemblyman Clyde Bishop promotes “California (Land of the Setting Sun)” in a Los Angeles Times cartoon, Feb. 8, 1911.
Bishop wanted no part of singing and said he might better use his time on the floor to tell the other members to go to hell. He suggested that Judiciary Committee Chairman William Kehoe might want to sing the song in front of the assembled body himself. That offer was also declined, but somehow the Assembly finally approved a slightly modified version of the song none of them were willing to sing.

The State Senate, however, shot it down. There had been harsh criticism of the song not just in Sacramento’s halls of power, but also in the press. "We have no sympathy with [Bishop]," snarked the Pacific Rural Press & California Farmer, "who moved to refer the bill to the Sacramento poundmaster on the ground that it might be doggerel."

Under the headline "Poetry That Snores," the San Francisco Call's Edward Cahill wrote, "In order to stock up with a full line of legislative nincompoopiana, it seems that we are to have a state song imposed on us without our consent, written by the poetess of Gospel Swamp, somewhere in the bogs of Orange County,... The stuff is utterly commonplace and could be written by the yard by any literary blacksmith. If the legislature has nothing better to do than make a laughing stock of California it might better adjourn and go home. As for the state song--forget it."
Capitol Building, Sacramento, 1915. (Photo courtesy California State Archives)
But California would not forget their desire for a state song, and Frank Silverwood would soon play a central role in filling that vacuum.

Next Time: Frank Loves You, California

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