On Nov. 1, 1961, the weekly range show Perry Como’s Kraft Music hall presented the second installment that a brand-new feature paying tribute to the states. The week’s episode—which specialized 15 minutes to celebrating the history, geography, and society of Missouri—debuted a jaunty brand-new theme track for the state-saluting feature: “Fifty Nifty joined States.”

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

If you understand “Fifty Nifty joined States”—and, if you visited an American elementary school at some point in the past 4 decades, there’s a decent chance you do—the flag-billowing component is most likely not the component you treatment about. In fact, you could not even have learned the song’s full intro. The part you care around is the part that comes next, i m sorry rivals the alphabet tune as an educational tool and also as one earworm: the part that rattles off every 50 states alphabetically, starting, “Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut,” and also ending, “West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyohhhhhh-ming!”

I learned “Fifty Nifty unified States” in my fifth-grade music class in Austin, Texas, around 1997. Eighteen year later, I have the right to barely remember what happened during the battle of Lexington and Concord, or which constitution amendment says what, however I can still sing the name of every state without having to think about it. The exact same is true for most other adult I’ve speak to who learned “Fifty Nifty unified States” in childhood. And also this shows up to it is in a truly nationwide phenomenon: I have actually heard from civilization who learned the tune from sea to shining sea, in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, brand-new Jersey, brand-new York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and also Virginia. (No doubt it’s to be taught in plenty of of the other 37 nifty says as well.) Lin-Manuel Miranda, the MacArthur genius and writer and also star that the singularly acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton, called it “my favorite track from elementary-school chorus” before a performance in September (and climate sang the state roll contact flawlessly).

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So just how did a throwaway novelty track from a now-forgotten 1960s range show become one that the best mnemonic tools in America?

Unfortunately, the song’s composer can’t tell us. Beam Charles—no, no that beam Charles—died previously this year in ~ the age of 96, after a long and also prolific show-business job in which that wrote, arranged, and also performed dozens the compositions because that stage and also screen. (He’s probably finest known for singing the Three’s agency theme; he likewise wrote music for Sha Na Na and The Muppet Show, among others.) however even when alive, Charles couldn’t shed much light on the subject. Interviewed for a south Carolina newspaper in 2008, Charles professed ignorance of how “Fifty Nifty unified States” became a success after the Perry Como show: “I no realize until around 10 years back it was being supplied in schools,” he said.

The odds the “Fifty Nifty unified States” becoming a beloved children’s classic were slim. Kraft Music hall wasn’t precisely must-see TV—in the season that “Fifty Nifty joined States” make its an initial appearance, that wasn’t also in the top 30 most-watched reflects on TV, according to Como’s biographers. The vast majority of “special material” Charles wrote for Kraft Music was performed once, or a couple of times, and then forgotten. The version of “Fifty Nifty joined States” the Charles wrote for Como’s show didn’t even encompass the roll contact of state names—the ditty carry out 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 only 25 states prior to the weekly present ended its operation in 1963. (Hey, Sufjan Stevens only got about to two of them.)

As Charles’ sons Jonathan and Michael mental it, the song came to be immortalized due to the fact that someone approached Charles around printing the song after hearing it on Kraft Music Hall. “How do you publish a track that’s only 47 seconds lengthy in that is entirety?” inquiry Jonathan, 68, in one email. “He then wrote ‘the add-on,’ stacking the says in alphabetical order quite than going for the rhyme.” that does not surprise the younger Charleses that their father opted to list the says in alphabet order. Jonathan defined his father together “a saver and an archivist” who retained meticulous records and organized lock carefully. “He loved placing things in alphabetical order,” Michael, 73, told me throughout a call conversation. “He had a 17,000 LP repertoire supplemented by, like, 5,000 CDs and audio cassettes, and everything to be alphabetical, one of two people by composer or composition. That loved placing things in order choose that.”

During the mid-20th century, once choral groups like the beam Charles Singers conquered the airwaves, music publishers realized that there was an untapped sector for written arrangements of well-known songs. School choirs had actually previously been minimal to timeless compositions, but choir director jumped in ~ the opportunity to teach your students much more accessible, contemporary tunes. Whoever experienced fit come print and also distribute “Fifty Nifty unified States” more than 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 speak definitely, back some ideas suggest exactly how it spread. In the summer that 1963, the song was performed in ~ the National education Association’s yearly meeting in Michigan, perhaps serving as motivation for the thousands of educators in attendance. In 1970, the nationwide newsletter that American Legion Auxiliary, a renowned women’s patriotic team that surely had many teachers, published the lyrics together the “suggested patriotic tune for October.” i heard from one American—Ray Charles’ former lawyer, actually—who learned the track at a public school in new Jersey in the so late 1960s or beforehand 1970s, which indicates that some teachers had taken on “Fifty Nifty” together a mnemonic machine within a decade of the song’s invention. I also found a mention of “Fifty Nifty joined States” in a regime from a 1975 music conference, wherein it to be performed by one elementary institution choir native Ann Arbor.