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What Is the State Song of North Carolina?

By Rebecca Mecomber
Updated May 17, 2024
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The state song of North Carolina is "The Old North State," adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1927. The song's title refers to North Carolina's nickname, "old north state," which is one of many state emblems. Both the title and the lyrics about enduring the "scorner" and "witling" depict the struggle North Carolina endured in territory boundary disputes and a series of economic setbacks during its formative years. While the words, written by William Gaston, remained the same, the music evolved over the years with multiple renditions in existence. In 1926, Raleigh resident Mrs. E. E. Randolph arranged the music, incorporating the standardized tune by which the state song of North Carolina is known today.

Judge William Gaston, a plantation owner and member of the state supreme court, was residing in the city of Raleigh during the 1835 judicial session. Several women in the household sang a song they had learned while attending a concert of Swiss bell ringers. Judge Gaston, enchanted with the tune, composed the verses to "The Old North State" to accompany the music. The song caught the ears of North Carolinians several years later when when a choir of young ladies sang it during a presidential rally for William Henry Harrison. The lyrics to the state song of North Carolina display patriotic pride and a hint of the difficulty the state experienced after the wars with Great Britain and a severe decrease in population and prestige.

William Gaston, from whom is named the city of Gastonia and Gaston County, took pride in the state song of North Carolina. His song includes words of defending the state, despite setbacks and scorners, and sings of its great liberty and hospitality to sons and strangers alike. The lyrics also lend personal perspective from the writer as a supreme court judge, with Gaston's proclamations of North Carolina's "just rule" and "too true to herself to e'er to crouch to oppression." Unlike many other state songs that herald the natural resources and beauties of their states, "The Old North State" focuses on the graciousness and beauty of its people "where plenty and peace, love and joy smile before us."

In 1663, Charles II of England established a colony in the New World, named Carolina in honor of his father. By the early 1700s, dissent and rebellion over local politics caused the colony to fracture into two separate royal territories: North Carolina and South Carolina. North Carolina adopted the nickname "Old North State" to differentiate it from South Carolina. The early years were turbulent for the fledgling state. After the American War for Independence from Great Britain and with the expansion of the American west in the early 1800s, North Carolina endured a dwindling population and reputation as an impoverished state with little opportunity.

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