5 Sentimental Songs About Tennessee

There have always been plenty of songs paying unique homages to the city of Nashville from Waylon Jennings‘ “Nashville Bum” and Bobby Bare Jr.’s “Visit Me in Music City,” through Trisha Yearwood‘s “Wrong Side of Memphis,” Jason Aldean‘s “Crazy Town,” and beyond.

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Other songs have also stretched outside of Music City, honoring the state of Tennessee, along with whispers of love and heartbreak and musical journeys. Dolly Parton has even shared a fair share of odes to her home state with songs like “Home” and “Tennessee Homesick Blues.”

Along the way, more artists have written songs tied to Tennessee with Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives “Tennessee,” “Tennessee River” by Alabama, “Back to Tennessee” by Billy Ray Cyrus, and “Tennessee Whiskey“— originally recorded by David Allan Coe, made famous by George Jones and later recorded by Chris Stapleton in 2015 — and Margo Price’s “Tennessee Song” from 2016, among many other salutes to the state.

Then there are the 10 designated state songs of Tennessee, including The Osborne Brothers’ “Rocky Top,” along with “Tennessee Waltz,” “My Homeland, Tennessee,” “When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee,” “A Tennessee Bicentennial Rap: 1796-1996,” “Smoky Mountain Rain” and “I’ll Leave My Heart in Tennessee” by the country and bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent, and others.

Though the songbook of stories associated with Tennessee is too extensive to list in its entirety, here’s a look at five more sentimental songs linked to the state — and all the music, loves, and losses along the way.

1. “Tennessee Waltz,” Pee Wee King and His Golden Cowboys (1948) / Patti Page (1956)
Written by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart

Released as the B-side of “Rootie Tootie” in January 1948, “Tennessee Waltz” was originally written in 1946 by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart while they were driving to Nashville with their band The Golden West Cowboys. Inspired by Bill Monroe‘s 1946 song “Kentucky Waltz,” the song tells the story of someone’s love who waltzes away with another.

A few years later, Patti Page released a cover of the song in 1950, and “Tennessee Waltz” became a national treasure—literally. The song spent 13 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Most-Played in Juke Boxes chart in 1950 and 1951 and three weeks at No. 2 on the Hot Country Songs chart.

“Tennessee Waltz” also became a signature song for Page and is also recognized as one of the official songs of the state of Tennessee.

I remember the night and the Tennessee Waltz
Now I know just how much I have lost
Yes, I lost my little darling on the night they were playing
The beautiful Tennessee Waltz

I was dancing with my darling to the Tennessee Waltz
When an old friend I happened to see
I Introduced her to my loved one and while they were dancing
My friend stole my sweetheart from me

2. “Tennessee Stud” Jimmy Driftwood (1959) / Eddy Arnold (1959) / Johnny Cash (1994)

Originally written and recorded by Jimmy Driftwood in 1959, the song became a hit later that year when Eddy Arnold covered it. His version also earned him a Grammy for Best Country & Western Performance. Inspired by an actual horse owned by Driftwood’s wife, Cleda’s grandfather, Jess Goodman, the song follows the tale of a man’s treacherous journey once he leaves Tennessee and how his state-born stud kept him alive.

Over the decades since its original release, everyone from Hank Williams Jr., Emmylou Harris, Doc Watson, and more have covered “Tennessee Stud,” including Johnny Cash, who featured it on his 81st album, American Recordings, which was produced by Rick Rubin and released in 1994.

Back about eighteen and twenty-five
I left Tennessee very much alive
I never would have made it through the Arkansas mud
If I hadn’t been riding on the Tennessee Stud
Had some trouble with my sweetheart’s pa
One of her brothers was a bad outlaw
I wrote a letter to my Uncle Fud
And I rode away on the Tennessee Stud

The Tennessee Stud was long and lean
The color of the sun and his eyes were green
He had the nerve and he had the blood
There never was a horse like the Tennessee Stud

Drifted on down into no man’s land
I crossed the river called the Rio Grande
I raced my horse with the Spaniards bold
‘Til I got me a skinful of silver and gold
Me and the gambler, we couldn’t agree
We got in a fight over Tennessee
We pulled our guns, he fell with a thud
And I rode away on the Tennessee Stud

3. “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” Dolly Parton (1973)
Written by Dolly Parton

An homage to the Smoky Mountains and the corner of Eastern Tennessee where she grew up, Dolly Parton weaves in imagery from her rural upbringing, from the walks home from church, playing with june bugs, porch swings, honeysuckle vines, and chasing fireflies at night.

The title track of her 1973 album, “My Tennessee Mountain Home” was originally released in 1972 and peaked at No. 15 on the Country Singles Chart. Parton later re-recorded the song at Dollywood for her 1994 live album, Heartsongs: Live From Home.

In February 2022, Tennessee Senator Becky Duncan Massey filed Senate Bill 2148 to make “My Tennessee Mountain Home” an official state song

Sittin’ on the front porch on a summer afternoon
In a straight-back chair on two legs, leaned against the wall
Watch the kids a-playin’ with June bugs on a string
And chase the glowin’ fireflies when evenin’ shadows fall

In my Tennessee mountain home
Life is as peaceful as a baby’s sigh
In my Tennessee mountain home
Crickets sing in the fields near by

Honeysuckle vine clings to the fence along the lane
Their fragrance makes the summer wind so sweet
And on a distant hilltop, an eagle spreads it’s wings
An’ a songbird on a fence post sings a melody

4. “Smoky Mountain Rain,” Ronnie Milsap (1980)
Written by Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan

Originally written by Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan, “Smoky Mountain Rain” was first recorded and released by country singer Ronnie Milsap on his Greatest Hits compilation and ended up becoming one of his most famous songs.

Told in the first-person, “Smoky Mountain Rain” is the story of someone who returns home to their love in Knoxville, Tennessee from Los Angeles after trying to chase their dreams.

In 2010, “Smoky Mountain Rain” was listed as the eighth state song of Tennessee.

I thumbed my way
From LA back to Knoxville
I found out those bright lights
Ain’t where I belong
From a phone booth in the rain
I called to tell her
I’ve had a change of dreams
I’m coming home
But tears filled my eyes
When I found out she was gone

5. “Tennessee Rose,” Emmylou Harris (1982)
Written by Karen Brooks and Hank DeVito

Cimarron was an album filled with outtakes that Emmylou Harris had previously recorded during past sessions that never found a place on one of her albums. The second single from Cimarron, “Tennessee Rose,” is an enchanting ode to love and to the great state, and coincidentally follows Harris’ own cover of the King and Stewart classic, “Tennessee Waltz.”

The song reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, and the album earned Harris a Grammy nomination for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female. 

I wouldn’t trade, no
The whole world dipped in gold
For a night with my Tennessee rose

Take this love I am giving
For it’s truly the lasting kind
The gift I hold is believing
That you will always be mine

Take this love I am giving
For it’s truly the lasting kind
The gift I hold is believing
That you will always be mine

Photo by Rick Kern/FilmMagic

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