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Indiana lawmakers honor Paul Dresser, writer of state's song

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Saturday, March 16, 2013 - 7:02 am

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers have honored the man who wrote the song "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" a century after it became the state's official song.

The Indiana House and Senate passed resolutions Thursday honoring Terre Haute native Paul Dresser for his song, written in 1897, that pays homage to the Wabash River. Their resolutions came a century to the day after the Legislature adopted Dresser's composition as Indiana's official state song.

"The state song was the first official symbol of Indiana. It was adopted four years before the state flag was adopted," Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, told the Indiana House.

Kersey, a former public school teacher who co-sponsored the House resolution, said he wanted to make it clear that "Back Home again in Indiana," the song annually performed by Jim Nabors at the Indianapolis 500, is not the state song. That song was written with inspiration from Dresser's song by Ballard MacDonald and James Hanley.

The Tribune-Star reported Friday that in 1917, Maurice Richmond Music purchased the copyright from Dresser's bankrupt company, Haviland and Dresser Co., and gave MacDonald and Hanley permission to use parts of "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" in their new song.

"That song has kind of taken the place of Dresser's song as it is sung at the Indianapolis 500. But Dresser's song is still the official state song," Kersey said.

Dresser was born Johann Paul Dreiser Jr. in Terre Haute and spent his youth near the Wabash River. He later changed his last name to Dresser and became a traveling musician, comedian and actor before relocating to New York City and becoming a songwriter and composer.

Mary Kramer, executive director of Art Spaces Inc.-Wabash Valley Outdoor Sculpture Collection, told members of the House that Dresser's song is a wonderful toast to Indiana.

"Our legislators of 100 years ago certainly had great foresight in choosing this song — not only because of the beauty of its music and its touching lyrics, which offer a tribute to our state — but because it recognizes one of our state's most timeless treasures, the Wabash River," she said.