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Feb. 17: Quick — what’s the state song of Mississippi? New Hampshire? Idaho? Pennsylvania? Doubtless they all have one, probably known only to historically minded residents or expatriates of those states. But ask people around the country what’s Tennessee’s song, there’s a good chance they’ll get it right, thanks the gazillions of records of “Tennessee Waltz” sold over the years. With the stroke of Gov. Frank Clement’s pen, it became an official symbol of the Volunteer State 45 years ago today. Rather than feature Patti Page’s smash from 1950-51, or the version by authors Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart from 1948, let’s hear from the first person ever to record “Tennessee Waltz,” a man who today is best remembered as another victim of the plane crash that killed Patsy Cline.

Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas replaced Eddy Arnold as the singer in Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys band in the early 1940s. Copas recorded for King Records in Cincinnati, where in April 1947 he laid down a song by Pee Wee King and his fiddler and songwriting partner, Redd Stewart. (Copas might have cut it again in Nashville later that year, backed by the Golden West Cowboys. If so, that’s probably the version used on the record.) It was released in March 1948, reaching No. 3 on Billboard‘s country chart — the same position attained by Pee Wee King’s own version, recorded for RCA in December ’47 and also released early the next year. They were the first of many artists to interpret “Tennessee Waltz,” none as successfully as Patti Page, whose record topped the pop charts for more than a month at the beginning of 1951 and reached No. 2 country as well.

Copas’ career entered a lull in the 1950s but was in the midst of a resurgance when he died in that 1963 plane crash. Pee Wee King, a real innovator in music and in stagecraft, achieved the pinnacle of hillbilly fame, enshrinement in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Oh, there’s another reason folks might get that question about Tennessee’s state song correct: We’ve got seven of ’em — so far. “Tennessee Waltz” was the fourth.

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