In the early 20th Century, two amateur songwriters at an advertising agency in Chattanooga attempted to write a song about Chattanooga. The original sheet music was recently discovered by a local history organization and they hope local musicians will help bring the song to life.
Organizers with Picnooga, an online history organization, discovered the sheet music and came up with the idea for a citywide contest.
“We came across this rare sheet music just before the holidays,” said David Moon, Picnooga founder. “As a fun project, we’d like to breathe new life into this forgotten 115-year-old tune about Chattanooga. The lyrics show an optimism that Chattanooga was on the path to provide a modern lifestyle to newcomers and visitors.”
The song is filled with references to the “$200,000” Walnut Street Bridge, the construction of the Hales Bar Dam and the city’s reputation as “The Dynamo of Dixie” with mills and factories along the riverfront.
According to Moon, the sheet music dates to about 1912-13. The two credited songwriters—A.H. Smiley and S.W. Floyd—called the song “Chattanooga Bill” and it features a rollicking, ragtime sound and a story told from the point of view of a character called “Chattanooga Bill.”
The complete sheet music can be viewed here.
Some of the lyrics from the song:
Come, good folks, your attention for a while, if you will
I am from Chattanooga, I am Chattanooga Bill
Hold your breath, and be right still
Take it from me that I am Chattanooga Bill
Say! Come to Chattanooga, folks.
Come on with a will.
Every day’s got it, the electric thrill
She’s a coming, she’s a bumming, just be a little still
Everybody’s doin’ it says (er) Chattanooga Bill
In later verses, the song calls out neighboring Tennessee cities—Nashville and Memphis—as looking like “the sum of thirty cents.” The insult suggests that both cities have a slovenly appearance, or are cheap looking.
Several instrumental versions of “Chattanooga Bill” are below.
Call to musicians
Picnooga is hoping local musicians will record their own version of “Chattanooga Bill” as a part of what he calls a “history challenge.”
“If you do a literal, old-timey version, that’s great,” Moon said. “If you want to make it your own and change things up … update the lyrics or make Chattanooga Bill into ‘Jill,’ it’s all good. The greatest value is having fun, making and contributing to local history your unique gift.”
Submissions can be made through March 2. Send finished tracks to Picnooga on Facebook.
More information is below: