Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

FAQ: Did Truman Like the Missouri Waltz?

Evidently, Harry Truman did not care for the "Missouri Waltz," the official state song of Missouri.

Asked in a television interview how the "Missouri Waltz" became associated with him, Mr. Truman said, "It’s a ragtime song and if you let me say what I think-I don’t give a damn about it, but I can’t say it out loud because it’s the song of Missouri. It’s as bad as "The Star Spangled Banner" as far as music is concerned."

A 1958 article in the Kansas City Star reported that the song was played at nearly every public occasion during his 1948 presidential campaign and it became part of Missouri folklore that the "Missouri Waltz" was his favorite song. Truman said about the song, "I just got tired of it. After all, they played it 30,000 times or more during that 1948 presidential campaign." In 1962, Truman was a guest of honor at a private dinner in a hotel. He walked down the hall towards the restroom and the leader of an orchestra in the main ballroom saw him and had his band play the "Missouri Waltz." Truman remarked to a friend that had accompanied him, "It's getting so you can't go to the men's room anymore without them playing the song."

...a little background on the song
John Valentine Eppel is credited with the melody to the Waltz. He turned it over to Frederick Knight Logan who made an arrangment of the song and sought out a publishing company for it. The Forster Publishing Company of Chicago, Illinois, published the melody (it had no lyrics) in 1914. Forster hired James Royce Shannon to add lyrics and the song grew in popularity. It was played at the 1944 Democratic National Convention when Truman received the nomination for vice-president. In 1949, Representative Floyd Snyder of Independence, Missouri, introduced a bill to make the "Missouri Waltz" the official state song of Missouri. The Missouri legislature passed the legislation (House Bill No. 2) amidst protests from members of the legislature who said that some of the lyrics were offensive. Representative Noel Cox, an opponent of the bill, said "It does not portray the life of Missouri. It may be popular in Independence and Southeast Missouri, but songs like these are passing fancies. It does not link up any great historical event of the state." Representative Baxter Waters held a different view saying, "This is a period of racial consciousness. There are some phrases and nicknames in the song that have been handed down and are not meant to be objectionable." The lyrics are given below so that you may judge for yourself.

"The Missouri Waltz" also known as
"Hush-a-bye, Ma Baby"

Hush-a-bye, ma baby, slumber-time is coming soon
Rest yo’ head upon ma breast while Mammy hums a tune
The sandman is callin’ where shadows are fallin’,
While the soft breezes sigh as in days long gone by.
’Way down in Missouri where I heard this melody,
When I was a Pick-a-ninny on ma Mammy’s knee
The darkies were hummin,’ Their banjos were strummin’
So sweet and low Strum, strum, strum, strum, strum,
Seems I hear those banjos playin’ once again,
Hum, hum, hum, hum, hum, That same old plaintive strain.
Hear that mournful melody, It just haunts you the whole day long,
And you wander in dreams back to Dixie, it seems,
When you hear that old time song.
Hush-a-bye, ma baby, go to sleep on Mammy’s knee,
Journey back to Dixieland in dreams again with me;
It seems like yo’ Mammy was there once again,
And the darkies were strummin’ that same old refrain.
’Way down in Missouri where I learned this lullaby,
When the stars were blinkin’ and the moon was climbin’ high,
And I hear Mammy Cloe, as in days long ago Singin’ hush-a-bye.