California in Song
Peter J. Shields Lobby, Special Collections Display Cases
Fall Quarter 2015 — Winter Quarter 2016
The Special Collections Department of the University Library presents an exhibit featuring songs about the state of California. This exhibit draws on sheet music housed in the Special Collections Department.
As long as there has been a California, and even before it became known by that name, it has inspired song. Through songs about the Golden State, we hear about its history—from the Gold Rush to the San Francisco earthquake, its places—from the St. Francis hotel to the city of Sacramento, and the dreams it has inspired of a better life in a wondrous place at the edge of the continent. This exhibit offers just a few examples of California in song.
The first music in what is now known as the state of California was made by its first inhabitants, the Native Americans. Following its discovery by Europeans, the discovery of gold in the hills precipitated a massive influx of fortune seekers. Even the 1906 San Francisco earthquake inspired song.
The natural beauty of California inspired song, but so did many of its man-made creations, even the St. Francis Hotel! While the city of San Francisco inspired many a song, even Sacramento got a song, written by Eden Ahbez, who adopted a “hippie” lifestyle years before San Francisco celebrated the Summer of Love in 1967. Ahbez is best known for composing the Nat King Cole hit, “Nature Boy.”
California has inspired many dreams in its history, from the get-rich-quick dreams of the Gold Rush, dreams of escape from the Depression dust bowl, to dreams of Hollywood glamour, and the Aquarian Age dreams of Haight Ashbury in the 1960s.
California continues to inspire songwriters, beyond the examples given here. While the Beach Boys extolled the charms of “California Girls” of 1965, in 2005 Gretchen Wilson asked “ain’t you glad we ain’t all California girls?” Katy Perry’s 2010 “California Gurls” returned to the more common theme in keeping with the California dream.