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NJ sings blues over decades-long state song fight

January 31, 2009 2:45:32 PM PST
New Jersey, the only state without an official song, is considering adopting four of them. Chances are, none of them is on your iPod. After decades of bickering over which single tune best represents the Garden State, a lawmaker is seeking harmony by naming official songs in four different categories. They're all by New Jersey artists who aren't well known in the music world.

The state's anthem would be Patrick Finley's "New Jersey, My Home;" the pop song would be Mark and Ellen Winter's "Be Proud to Be in New Jersey;" the children's song would be "In New Jersey," which has lyrics inspired by a fourth-grade class; and the ballad would be Nelson Trout's "New Jersey, USA."

Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew called the mix "something that can be used in our schools and can instill pride in what is still a great state."

New Jersey wouldn't be the first to have multiple state songs. Tennessee - a hotbed of gospel, early rock, soul, country and bluegrass - has five, Finley said.

It may not be the weightiest of matters, but the debate stretches back nearly 50 years, when then-Gov. Robert Meyner said he thought New Jersey ought to have a state song.

Over that period, one proposed entry, "I'm from New Jersey," was even approved by at least one house of the Legislature on seven occasions but never got the governor's signature.

This time around, that song by Red Mascara, a Phillipsburg chemical plant worker, is not being considered - but that doesn't mean the tune won't pop up again at a later date.

Mascara said that after nearly 50 years of lobbying for his piece, he's not worried about being edged out by the new quartet of compositions because he's learned a lot about New Jersey politics.

"Even coming out of committee doesn't mean it's going to go on the board," Mascara said.

Three of the four songs up for consideration were written for a 1996 contest aimed to settle the song debate. Finley's choral piece won, but the bill to make his song official died in committee, he said, because a lawmaker was being lobbied by a constituent who had written a contender.

Finley then proposed making all three finalists state songs in their own categories, but that bill was forgotten after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Eventually, the piece by Trout, a musician who works for the city of Millville, was added to the mix.

Republican state Sen. Kevin O'Toole criticized the legislature's state government committee for considering songs rather than ethics reform legislation, calling the committee "a symbol of everything that is wrong" with the state's Democratic leadership.

But Van Drew promises that the Legislature won't spend much time worrying about music.

Besides, he said: "There's no financial cost to this."

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