Saturday, September 22, 2018
Human Interest

Jan Hinton's new Florida anthem is a song from her heart

FORT LAUDERDALE — Florida lurked just outside of Jan Hinton's classroom the other day. The sun shined down, palm trees swayed, pelicans flapped toward the Atlantic Ocean. She would have written a song about picture-perfect Florida, had she not already written a song about picture-perfect Florida.

Florida (Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky) is her paean to her adopted home. Last month lawmakers declared her song the official state anthem. The governor is expected to give his thumbs-up soon.

Hinton, born in the years between Buddy Holly and the Beatles, is an obsessive songwriter who teaches elementary music appreciation at Pinecrest School in Broward County. At home she noodles nervously on her old Yamaha PSR5700 keyboard until she comes up with something.

When the state advertised a contest last year for a new Florida song, Hinton headed for the bedroom she calls a music studio.

She wanted to account for the water and the reptiles, the orange blossoms and rockets. She wanted to acknowledge the importance of tourism but couldn't think of a graceful way to declare "the importance of tourism.'' Instead she wrote, "Always shielding your own, yet giving welcome.''

• • •

Jeb Bush refused to allow the performance of the official state song, Old Folks at Home, at his two inaugurations. Charlie Crist ignored Old Folks, also known as Way Down Upon the Swanee River, when he took the oath. They found fault with Stephen Foster's 19th century lyrics about "darkies.'' The governors were unwilling to stand accused of promoting minstrel-show music in the ultimate melting-pot state.

Anyway, as they could tell you, Foster wasn't even a Floridian. He even misspelled Suwannee. But he liked the sound of all those vowels.

Jan Hinton, born in Britain, set foot in Florida a decade ago. She says she likes lizards, even alligators, and appreciates the balmy climate. Fried mullet and grits aren't on the menu, but she knows a mockingbird when she hears one. She wrote and wrote, rewrote and rewrote her song.

She shared her first draft with a friend; he made fun of the way she pronounced "Florida'' and told her that under no circumstances could she use the expression "ocean to ocean'' as she had in her first draft. "It's ocean to gulf,'' he told her. "Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico.''

Her new lyrics envision the peninsula "sitting proud in the ocean like a sentinel true.''

• • •

She received her first musical lessons as a child, studied music in college, played piano and sang in nightclubs. Once, in a London airport lounge, as she performed on piano, she saw a beautiful blond woman with high cheekbones leaning against a wall. To this day she believes it had to be her musical hero, Joni Mitchell, listening to HER while waiting for a flight. She is working on A Song for Joni.

"Writing songs is an obsessive, creative disorder,'' Hinton tells people.

Her demo recording of Florida (Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky), on which she sang, played piano and everything else by computer, was among 243 contest entries. After it made the finals, she enlisted a children's choir to sing and digitally recorded the performance. On one of three lobbying trips to Tallahassee, she made sure key legislators had copies of the recording.

An anthem seldom contains rough edges: No downtrodden African-Americans picking cotton while longing for the old folks at home on the plantation, no country boys singing high and lonesome about the Orange Blossom Special train, no half-soused beach bum in flip-flops looking for that lost shaker of salt. Hinton wrote a perfectly safe hymn about her Florida.

Stephen Foster was the Irving Berlin of the 19th century. He wrote for the parlor and for the stage, often for white performers wearing black makeup. After Harriet Beecher Stowe humanized African-American suffering in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Foster wrote compassionate lyrics the rest of his life. His most famous song, My Old Kentucky Home, like Old Folks At Home, was written in the voice of slaves, though the poignant lyrics today strike the universal chord of a longing for home.

An advanced alcoholic, he died in New York's bowery district on Jan. 13, 1864. He had 38 cents in his pocket. So much for royalties. His music, notably Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair and Beautiful Dreamer, lives on.

At the last minute, Florida's legislators decided, grudgingly, for tradition's sake, to keep a rewritten, no "darkies" version of Old Folks at Home as the official Florida song. Hinton's squeaky clean creation was declared the Florida anthem.

"I'm happy Florida has both,'' she says, still enjoying her musicalext>al high. "I'm happy to be on the bill with Stephen Foster.''

Jeff Klinkenberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8727.

Comments
Colombia-based body shapewear boutique, Sexy Skinz opens second location in South Tampa

Colombia-based body shapewear boutique, Sexy Skinz opens second location in South Tampa

After listening to the needs of men and women desiring and personally desiring to look slimmer without having to exercise, Colombia native, Elizabeth Muñoz spent years designing top-of-the-line body shapewear at her undergarment shop in Colombia...
Published: 09/21/18
I was hospitalized for my eating disorder. Here's what Netflix shows get right and wrong about it.

I was hospitalized for my eating disorder. Here's what Netflix shows get right and wrong about it.

It took me a year and a half to watch Netflix’s To the Bone. The movie, which debuted in January 2017, portrays Ellen, a 20-year-old woman battling anorexia nervosa, and her experience being in and out of various treatment programs. When it w...
Published: 09/20/18
Updated: 09/21/18
'Game of Thrones,' 'Mrs. Maisel' and a proposal highlight Emmy Awards

'Game of Thrones,' 'Mrs. Maisel' and a proposal highlight Emmy Awards

LOS ANGELES — Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel became the first streaming series to win top Emmy comedy honors and HBO's Game of Thrones recaptured the best drama series award Monday at a ceremony that largely slighted its most ethnically di...
Published: 09/18/18
Lens on Pasco wildlife: Park supervisor shares encounters with his pictures

Lens on Pasco wildlife: Park supervisor shares encounters with his pictures

NEW PORT RICHEY — For Mark Berlinger, getting the best shot is a matter of serendipity. Being in the right place. Looking up at the right time. Hearing a rustle and following a notion to take the lens cap off your camera and shoot.Often, the right pl...
Published: 09/13/18
New Miss America glad she didn’t have to don swimsuit to win

New Miss America glad she didn’t have to don swimsuit to win

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The first woman to win the Miss America crown without having to don a swimsuit says she’s glad she didn’t have to. Nia Imani Franklin, who won the title Sunday night in Atlantic City while competing as Miss New York, said the ch...
Published: 09/10/18
Judy Garland’s stolen ruby slippers from ‘Wizard of Oz’ are found

Judy Garland’s stolen ruby slippers from ‘Wizard of Oz’ are found

MINNEAPOLIS — Federal authorities say they have recovered a pair of sequined ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz that were stolen from a museum in her northern Minnesota hometown 13 years ago. The slippers were taken from the Judy ...
Updated one month ago
Local Loudmouth Lip Attire founder makes a colorful statement, and you can, too

Local Loudmouth Lip Attire founder makes a colorful statement, and you can, too

TAMPAAmber Parker loves to stand out in a crowd.And with a vivacious personality and a funky personal style, the petite 32-year-old certainly makes a bold impression.So it’s only fitting that her makeup line, Loudmouth Lip Attire, features vibrant an...
Updated one month ago
‘What the hell did you do to my daughter?’ He was accused of a crime he swore he never committed; she believed her 4-year-old

‘What the hell did you do to my daughter?’ He was accused of a crime he swore he never committed; she believed her 4-year-old

ST. PETERSBURGOn the evening of the accusation, before the police came, Austin Holcomb walked to his neighbors’ house to get his son.The boy, who was almost 4, had been playing there all afternoon.The neighbors’ house was a wreck. That Saturday, they...
Updated one month ago
Zephyrhills High rallys to support ‘the greatest kid,’ who’s in a fight for his life

Zephyrhills High rallys to support ‘the greatest kid,’ who’s in a fight for his life

ZEPHYRHILLS There was a swelling of Bulldog Pride as students, many donning orange and black school colors and "I Run For Zack" T-shirts, flocked to the gymnasium for the afternoon pep rally at Zephyrhills High. • The marching band played rousing...
Updated one month ago