As far as civic jingles go, "Knoxville, That's My Hometown!" is not the most original. Most probably first recorded in the mid-'60s, its lyrics may be all Knoxville ("We're proud of the Dulin Gallery, Blount Mansion, the Coliseum, too/The UT Vols, the Knoxville Knights, just to name a few"), but its bouncy rhythms were duplicated in city after city. Programming and Music Services Jingles of Dallas sold the exact same song with different lyrics to businesses around the country that needed city jingles for promotional gimmicks—Knoxville's 45 was apparently distributed by Elm Hill Meats.
"Knoxville, That's My Hometown!" was all but forgotten decades ago—but now it's back in all-new versions by local musicians, courtesy of WBIR.
The station's former director of marketing, Jules Morris, was attending a Leadership Knoxville class this past year when Bradley Reeves of the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound presented a video that the archive had produced, matching up the 45 recording to a selection of related archival clips.
"I heard it and found myself bobbing my head to the tune and then humming it after the session," Morris says. "It was a catchy tune, about things that were mostly familiar to me, and had a pride-of-place vibe that I really loved. It screamed ‘We love Knoxville' and WBIR is certainly proud of our heritage and home."
Thus, a series of promotional videos was born—but instead of just covering "Knoxville, That's My Hometown!" Morris and former WBIR senior producer Carson Hunt (now at JAO Productions) asked local musicians to reinterpret the song with their own lyrics. "We brainstormed a list of musicians that just said ‘Knoxville' to us—from local icons to up-and-coming talent," she says. Thus, a collection of Knoxville all-stars were recorded at the Square Room singing their own personal praises to their hometown: the Black Lillies, R.B. Morris, Kelle Jolley and the Soul Sax Trio, and the cowboy power trio of Marshal Andy, Todd Steed, and Jeff Bills.
Of course, Steed is an old hand at writing songs about Knoxville, but in this case he pleads writer's block: "I did several drafts that didn't seem to work me for me or anyone else. Marshal Andy actually did most of the rewrite. He's got the touch.
"But seriously, I was honored to be asked since it could be argued I am an occasional embarrassment to Knoxville. It was also a great chance for me to finally justify the purchase of the cowboy shirt."
Jules Morris, who recently left WBIR to start her own ad/PR agency BOMBDIGGITY, won't admit to having a favorite version, but she does confess to singing along with one more often. "I honestly love them all for different reasons," she says. "I do, however, find myself singing R.B. Morris' version in the car—‘It's a pretty little town at the foot of the mountain where the Tennessee River flows.'"
The performances are available to watch at youtube.com/user/WBIRTV.