“I Love You, California”: the Song, the Era and the Ad

February 26, 2013 § 20 Comments

230px-ILoveYouCalif
There’s a Jeep Grand Cherokee ad currently running on TV in California that features a jaunty song sung in warbling 1920s style. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGYR1C6wPo0
Over picturesque shots of the Jeep with the Golden Gate Bridge, mountains, desert, poppies, redwoods, beaches and the Hollywood Sign, we hear:

I love you, California,you’re the greatest state of all
I love you in the winter, summer, spring and in the fall
I love your fertile valleys; your dear mountains I adore
I love your grand old ocean and I love her rugged shore

I looked up the lyrics and was surprised to learn that “I Love You California” is our state’s official song. It also features a chorus and three more (in my opinion, far superior) verses that can be seen here: http://www.50states.com/songs/calif.htm#.UTGjrqWSTHg
Having spent most of my life in California, I find it more than a little odd that I had never heard “I Love You, California” played even once before Jeep decided to use it in an ad.

The lyrics were written by F. B. Silverwood (1863-1924), a Los Angeles clothier, and set to music by A. F. Frankenstein, the conductor of the Orpheum Theater Orchestra. The song was copyrighted in 1913 and was debuted soon afterwards by the opera star Mary Garden. “I Love You, California” was an instant success, and in 1915 became the official song of both the San Francisco and San Diego Expositions. It was also played aboard the S.S. Ancon, the first ship to sail through the Panama Canal.

For me, the song captures what I think of as the era of California Exceptionalism–the period between 1900 and 1940 when California had a burgeoning population and geographical remoteness from the East Coast and its culture. Californians–whether established or new–reveled in their state’s differentness: its non-European culture, its climate, its exotic crops, its dramatically varied topography. That California was a popular name for both boys and girls before WWII says a lot about state pride, as do the sentiments expressed in “I Love You, California.”

Apparently, the song is still played at the funerals of former governors, most recently Ronald Reagan’s. But wouldn’t it be nice if it were played at sporting events, and if children learned to sing it in school? Perhaps “I Love You, California” could pave the way for a new era of boosterism, one distinguished by a new-found interest in planting backyard citrus, and in naming babies for the greatest state of all.

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