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Much debate surrounded selection of Oklahoma’s state song

Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives
Special to Texoma Marketing and Media Group
Truman Virgil "Pinky" Tomlin was a singer-songwriter, band leader and actor during the 1930s and '40s. Raised in Durant, he penned the song "Ole Oklahoma."

In 1953, the Oklahoma legislature chose the title song from the popular Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical, “Oklahoma” to replace “Oklahoma – A Toast” as our state song.

You probably aren’t old enough to have memorized “A Toast” in school, but most students, town councilmen and club ladies of that era did. Written by Harriet Parker Camden, before statehood, it was advertised by the Pieratt-Whitlock Music Co. of Enid in 1905, but wasn’t adopted by the Legislature until 1935 after a lively competition between it and “Oklahoma, Sweet Land of My Dreams.”

The words of “Sweet” were written by Jennie Harris Oliver with a musical score by Oklahoma University student Oscar J. Lehrer and published in 1934. Rep. Dave Roberts of Rush Springs presented his case for “Sweet,” and then Rep. John Hankla of Geary argued for “Toast.” Both songs were performed by a dozen musicians from the university. After much debate, the House voted 40 to 13 in favor of “Oklahoma – A Toast” (House Bill 19).

While the debate between the two songs was intense, it was not the first, nor the last. It seems that writing a state song was a popular pastime for students and even established musicians.

Henryetta’s newspaper editor, George Riley Hall, wrote “Land of My Dreaming” in 1917, and the Tulsa paper praised it as having “more merit than the average state song”.

C. D. Foster and S. B. Renshaw offered a song in 1925 that claimed to “swing to a good rhythm” and “enthuse a single individual as well as a crowd.” There were many others before “Oklahoma –A Toast” was finally and officially chosen.

And apparently, everyone wasn’t pleased with Mrs. Camden’s song because shortly after the announcement of the vote, the Oklahoma Junior Chamber of Commerce launched a nearly two-year campaign to find its replacement.

Durant’s own Hollywood star and songwriter, “Pinky” Tomlin, entered their contest and won with “Ole Oklahoma.” His publishing connections in New York City and his popularity in Bryan County were instrumental in promoting the song. It was sung by the entire student body of Madill at their opening assembly in September. Sadly, it was never officially recognized as our favorite song.

However, since Truman Virgil “Pinky” Tomlin grew up in Durant, it seems fitting that we read his lyrics:

In ole Oklahoma

Beneath the western skies,

Where folks all say “Hi stranger,”

And friendship never dies.

In ole Oklahoma,

Where cowboys sing all day,

The Indians play their tom, toms,

To pass the time away.

Coyotes on the hilltop,

Tell their lonesome tale,

They say, “Settle down, you dogies,

It’s twilight on the trail.”

So in ole Oklahoma,

Beneath the western sky,

I’ve lived there up ‘til now, boys,

I’ll live there ‘til I die.

Pinky also wrote the ’30s hit song “The Object of My Affections,” which was later used for the soundtrack of the 1973 movie “Paper Moon.” Pinky’s father, George, was a night watchman for Durant. Pinky died in Hollywood.

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.