On Nov. 1, 1961, the weekly variety show Perry Como’s Kraft Music room presented the 2nd installment the a new feature payment tribute to the states. That week’s episode—which committed 15 minutes to celebrating the history, geography, and culture of Missouri—debuted a jaunty new theme song for the state-saluting feature: “Fifty Nifty unified States.”

Fifty nifty United says from thirteen original coloniesFifty nifty stars in the flag that billows so beautifully in the breezeEach separation, personal, instance state contributes a high quality that is greatEach individual state deserves a bowLet’s salute one now!


If you understand “Fifty Nifty joined States”—and, if you went to an American elementary college at some suggest in the past 4 decades, yes sir a decent possibility you do—the flag-billowing component is more than likely not the component you treatment about. In fact, you might not even have learned the song’s complete intro. The part you care around is the component that come next, which rivals the alphabet track as an educational tool and as one earworm: the component that rattles off every 50 states alphabetically, starting, “Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut,” and ending, “West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyohhhhhh-ming!”


I learned “Fifty Nifty joined States” in mine fifth-grade music course in Austin, Texas, about 1997. Eighteen years later, I have the right to barely psychic what happened throughout the battle of Lexington and Concord, or which constitutional amendment states what, however I deserve to still sing the name of every state without having actually to think around it. The very same is true for most other adults I’ve talked to that learned “Fifty Nifty united States” in childhood. And this appears to it is in a truly nationwide phenomenon: I have heard from people who learned the track from sea come shining sea, in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, brand-new Jersey, new York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and also Virginia. (No doubt it’s been taught in countless of the various other 37 nifty says as well.) Lin-Manuel Miranda, the MacArthur genius and also writer and star of the singularly acclaimed Broadway music Hamilton, called it “my favorite song from elementary-school chorus” before a power in September (and climate sang the state roll speak to flawlessly).

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So how did a throwaway novelty tune from a now-forgotten 1960s selection show come to be one that the biggest mnemonic gadgets in America?


Unfortunately, the song’s composer can not tell us. Beam Charles—no, not that ray Charles—died previously this year in ~ the age of 96, ~ a long and prolific show-business career in which that wrote, arranged, and performed dozens of compositions because that stage and also screen. (He’s probably best known for to sing the Three’s agency theme; he also wrote music for Sha Na Na and The Muppet Show, among others.) but even as soon as alive, Charles couldn’t shed much irradiate on the subject. Interviewed because that a south Carolina newspaper in 2008, Charles professed ignorance of exactly how “Fifty Nifty joined States” became a success after ~ the Perry Como show: “I didn’t realize until about 10 years back it to be being supplied in schools,” the said.


The odds of “Fifty Nifty united States” ending up being a beloved children’s classic were slim. Kraft Music room wasn’t exactly must-see TV—in the season that “Fifty Nifty joined States” make its first appearance, it wasn’t even in the optimal 30 most-watched mirrors on TV, follow to Como’s biographers. The vast bulk of “special material” Charles created for Kraft Music was perform once, or a couple of times, and also then forgotten. The version of “Fifty Nifty joined States” the Charles composed for Como’s present didn’t even include the roll call of state names—the ditty performed by the ray Charles Singers was about 47 seconds long. And Como’s state-of-the-week segment never actually managed to celebrate every 50 states—Como paid tribute to just 25 states prior to the weekly present ended its run in 1963. (Hey, Sufjan Stevens only got around to two of them.)


As Charles’ young Jonathan and also Michael psychic it, the song came to be immortalized since someone approached Charles around printing the track after hearing it on Kraft Music Hall. “How perform you i have announced a track that’s just 47 seconds lengthy in the entirety?” request Jonathan, 68, in an email. “He then wrote ‘the add-on,’ stacking the states in alphabetical order rather than going because that the rhyme.” that does not surprise the younger Charleses the their father choose to perform the says in alphabet order. Jonathan described his father as “a saver and also an archivist” who preserved meticulous records and also organized them carefully. “He loved placing things in alphabet order,” Michael, 73, called me throughout a phone call conversation. “He had a 17,000 LP collection supplemented by, like, 5,000 CDs and also audio cassettes, and everything to be alphabetical, one of two people by composer or composition. He loved placing things in order like that.”


During the mid-20th century, when choral groups like the beam Charles Singers dominated the airwaves, music publishers realized that there to be an untapped industry for composed arrangements of popular songs. Institution choirs had previously been restricted to classic compositions, but choir directors jumped at the opportunity to teach your students much more accessible, contemporary tunes. Whoever saw fit come print and distribute “Fifty Nifty joined States” most likely predicted—correctly—that music educators would take on the catchy, wholesome, patriotic song.

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How, exactly, the song recorded on with educators is difficult to to speak definitely, back some clues suggest how it spread. In the summer the 1963, the track was performed in ~ the National education Association’s yearly meeting in Michigan, possibly serving as incentive for the countless educators in attendance. In 1970, the nationwide newsletter that American Legion Auxiliary, a well-known women’s patriotic team that surely had many teachers, published the lyrics as the “suggested patriotic track for October.” ns heard native one American—Ray Charles’ former lawyer, actually—who learned the song at a public college in new Jersey in the late 1960s or early on 1970s, which indicates that part teachers had embraced “Fifty Nifty” together a mnemonic machine within a te of the song’s invention. I also found a mention of “Fifty Nifty unified States” in a program from a 1975 music conference, wherein it to be performed by one elementary college choir indigenous Ann Arbor.