'Moonlight in Vermont': What's the story behind the song?

Ben and Jerry’s, Bernie Sanders, and maple bourbon are some of things that Vermont is world-famous for. But for some, what truly puts the state on the global map is one 77-year-old jazz standard: “Moonlight in Vermont.”

An unofficial anthem of Vermont, the tune has been recorded hundreds of times, including by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, Sarah Vaughan, and Willie Nelson.

The song was written in 1944 by Karl Suessdorf and John Blackburn. Blackburn attended Bennington College in the 1930’s before moving to California, but the memory of Vermont stayed with him, according to Vermont Public Radio.

“I’ve always felt if we wrote a song about a state it would always be there,” Blackburn is quoted by Vermont Public Radio, “How about Vermont? How about Moonlight in Vermont? And that’s how it all started.”

The song’s lyrics are unusual for not rhyming, but instead following a haiku pattern of five syllabus, seven syllables, and five syllables again. They also pay tribute to the sycamore tree — which is native to Vermont — but is not among its most common trees, according to the Arbor Day Foundation.

Still, its quirky charm had wide appeal, especially for soldiers stationed away from home for World War II. The lyrics “presented an idealized picture of what many of the soldiers had left behind,” Vermont Encyclopedia co-author Harry Orth told the Burlington Free Press.

In the 1990’s, a group of lawmakers tried to make “Moonlight in Vermont” the state’s official song, but were ultimately defeated. Some thought the song’s melody would be too difficult for the average person to sing. Still, many supported the initiative.

D. Thomas Toner, professor of music at the University of Vermont, told the Burlington Free Press about the times when the university band performed the song in Germany, Austria, and Slovakia. “People were singing, even in Slovak, which was very interesting,” Toner said. “It’s a piece that people all around the world knew.”

Contact April Fisher at amfisher@freepressmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter: @AMFisherMedia

This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: ‘Moonlight in Vermont’: What’s the story behind the song?

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