May 10, 2022 - News

The winding journey of Tennessee's new state song

Bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent.

Bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent. Photo: Sanford Myers/The Tennessean/USA Today Network

Tennessee's latest state song might not have made it to Gov. Bill Lee's desk if not for a basket of wine and cheese left on singer Jamie Dailey's front porch.

Driving the news: About 10 years ago, songwriter Karen Staley left a CD of song demos and a welcome basket outside Dailey's Brentwood home.

  • Dailey's house was hard to miss — a tour bus for his bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent was parked out front, with a large picture of him on the side.
  • They became friends, and she eventually asked if they'd be interested in her song "I'll Leave My Heart in Tennessee." She thought her neighbor's powerful tenor would be a perfect match for the nostalgic ballad.

The intrigue: With lyrics describing the peaceful rolling hills of rural Tennessee, the song took Dailey back to his childhood in the small town of Gainesboro. He knew he had to sing it.

  • "It literally tells the story of my life," Dailey tells Axios. "Automatically, my mind goes right back to my happy times up in the country."

Between the lines: The song has a topical element that echoes long-running debates in Nashville.

  • The narrator laments "cold and heartless" developers who bulldoze farms "in the name of progress."

Flashback: Staley wrote the song in 2004, when the Williamson County farm where she kept a horse was facing redevelopment.

  • Earlier in her career, Staley wrote the Tracy Byrd classic "The Keeper of the Stars" and Faith Hill's early hits "Take Me As I Am" and "Let's Go To Vegas." But she tells Axios this song stood out.
  • "This one was from the heart," Staley says.

State of play: After Dailey & Vincent added the song to their setlist, it gained traction among fans and eventually won support from lawmakers.

  • State Rep. John Mark Windle (I-Livingston) and Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) sponsored legislation this year to make it a state song.

How it works: Tennessee has several state songs, including "Rocky Top," "Tennessee Waltz" and "Smoky Mountain Rain."

  • The bill adding "I'll Leave My Heart in Tennessee" to the list passed during the legislative session with near-unanimous support.
  • Dailey, Darrin Vincent and Staley celebrated with live renditions in the capitol.

What she's saying: "It was mind-blowing because it had just laid dormant," Staley says of the song's winding journey.

  • "To me, it was just a literal God wink. A gift from God."

What to watch: A new Dailey & Vincent album featuring a studio recording of "I'll Leave My Heart in Tennessee" is set for release in August.


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