As you might imagine, the talented staff at Johnson County Library are involved in many community projects and interesting hobbies. Charles Hower, a JCL information specialist, recently took on an unusual project.
Over the course of several months, Charles performed the state songs of all 50 states. The performances, which each include one or two verses and a brief history of how the song came about, are available to watch on YouTube in a series entitled, State Song Sundays. The project was inspired by a book that’s currently available in the JCL collection: State Songs of America.
Charles boasts an impressive musical resume: a bachelor’s degree in music education from Kansas State University and a master’s degree in music performance from the University of Missouri. While he was primarily trained on instrumental music—in particular, the euphonium—Charles has always had an interest in choirs, singing in his University Choir, Concert Choir, Men’s Glee Choir, and Little Apple Barbershop chorus.
While Charles’ background was in music, he had a lifelong love for the Library. He was a teen volunteer and worked as a Homework Help coach in 2006. When the Monticello Library opened in 2018, Charles threw his hat in the ring and entered the system as a clerk.
While Charles performs each of the 50 songs with equal gusto, he has favorites and not so favorites. “ My favorite, just for the amount of fun it was to sing, is a toss-up between Vermont and Tennessee. Worst is harder since there are so many dated songs that are offensive or just real clunkers. In terms of just music I didn’t enjoy singing, Mississippi is really high up there.”
In addition to his performance chops, he has a keen interest in the historical and cultural aspects of music, which shine through in the state song project. In taking on the project, Charles said that, in large part, his intention was to explore the origin of state symbols and their continuing significance to people.
Charles suggests that the history of the state songs may be more interesting than the songs themselves. As he puts it, “the specific songs themselves don’t matter as much as the effort to put into words what makes each state special. That we look at the songs that were chosen and reflect on the values they represent— that is the important stuff.”
Learn about the history and enjoy a performance of all 50 state songs on Charles’ State Song Sundays YouTube playlist. To read more about what is happening at the Library, be sure to check out the Library blog at jocolibrary.org.
Johnson County Library – Nurturing the Community’s Collective Wisdom