Alaska's Flag
"Alaska's Flag" is the state song of Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

. Unique among state songs, its lyrics explain the symbolism of the Alaskan flag
Flag of Alaska
The flag of the state of Alaska consists of eight gold stars, forming the Big Dipper and the North Star, on a dark blue field.The Big Dipper is an asterism in the constellation Ursa Major which symbolizes a bear, an animal indigenous to Alaska...

. The lyrics are:

Eight stars of gold on a field of blue —

Alaska's flag. May it mean to you

The blue of the sea, the evening sky,

The mountain lakes, and the flow'rs nearby;

The gold of the early sourdough's dreams,

The precious gold of the hills and streams;

The brilliant stars in the northern sky,

The "Bear," the "Dipper," and, shining high,

The great North Star with its steady light,

O'er land and sea a beacon bright.

Alaska's flag — to Alaskans dear,

The simple flag of a last frontier.

The connection between the song and the flag happened both by design and circumstance. It was the result of the linkage among three individuals: Benny Benson
Benny Benson
John Ben "Benny" Benson, Jr. was the Aleut boy who designed the flag of Alaska. Benny was 13 when he won in a contest in 1927 to design the flag for the territory of Alaska, which became a U.S. state in 1959.-Biography:...

, Marie Drake, and Elinor Dusenbury. They did not directly collaborate, but instead Marie Drake built on the work of Benny Benson, and Elinor Dusenbury built on the work of the other two. Benny Benson
Benny Benson
John Ben "Benny" Benson, Jr. was the Aleut boy who designed the flag of Alaska. Benny was 13 when he won in a contest in 1927 to design the flag for the territory of Alaska, which became a U.S. state in 1959.-Biography:...

 inspired the effort, Marie Drake wrote the lyrics, and Elinor Dusenbury composed the song.

Alaska's official flag is based on Benny Benson's design, which was submitted in a Territory-wide contest for schoolchildren sponsored by the American Legion
American Legion
The American Legion is a mutual-aid organization of veterans of the United States armed forces chartered by the United States Congress. It was founded to benefit those veterans who served during a wartime period as defined by Congress...

 in 1926. At that time Benny was a thirteen-year-old seventh-grader of Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n-Aleut and Swedish
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 descent, studying at the Territorial School at Seward
Seward, Alaska
Seward is a city in Kenai Peninsula Borough in the U.S. state of Alaska. According to 2005 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the city is 3,016....

 and a resident of the Jesse Lee Mission Home. The Alaska Territorial Legislature officially adopted his design on May 2, 1927. The proclamation praised his winning entry for, "its simplicity, its originality and its symbolism." On the design submission, Benny had written the following words of explanation: “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not
Myosotis is a genus of flowering plants in the family Boraginaceae that are commonly called Forget-me-nots. Its common name was calqued from the French, "ne m'oubliez pas" and first used in English in c. 1532. Similar names and variations are found in many languages.-Description:There are...

, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear
Ursa Major
Ursa Major , also known as the Great Bear, is a constellation visible throughout the year in most of the northern hemisphere. It can best be seen in April...

 — symbolizing strength.”

Alaska Department of Education employee Marie Drake echoed Benny Benson's explanation of his design in a poem she wrote in 1935. Marie Drake had become the Territorial Assistant Commissioner of Education in 1934.
She edited and wrote most of the material for the School Bulletin, which was circulated throughout the Territorial school system. The poem first appeared on the cover of the October 1935 School Bulletin.

Elinor Dusenbury soon composed a song around the poem and the flag. The wife of the Commanding Officer of the Chilkoot Barracks at Haines
Haines, Alaska
Haines is a census-designated place in Haines Borough, Alaska, United States. As of the 2000 census, the population of the area was 1,811. Haines was formerly a city but no longer has a municipal government...

 from 1933 to 1936, she had fallen deeply in love with Alaska, but she left when her husband was transferred. She said, "I wrote the music for Marie's beautiful poetry from pure unadulterated homesickness for Alaska! I shed more tears on the boat going out than I ever have before or since. I had a book on Alaska with the picture of the flag and Marie's poem." In the summer of 1938 Dusenbury visited Juneau
Juneau, Alaska
The City and Borough of Juneau is a unified municipality located on the Gastineau Channel in the panhandle of the U.S. state of Alaska. It has been the capital of Alaska since 1906, when the government of the then-District of Alaska was moved from Sitka as dictated by the U.S. Congress in 1900...

and played her setting of the poem for Marie on the piano at the Baranof Hotel. Happiness came to the poet's eyes.

The song began gradually to be played unofficially, and steadily grew in popularity over the next two decades.
To the surprise and delight of both women, the Territorial Legislature adopted "Alaska's Flag" in 1955. It became the official State song when the Territory of Alaska entered the union as the 49th state in 1959.

Historical notes

Benny Benson chose the background color of the flag to represent both the blue sky and the forget-me-not. The Legislature later named the forget-me-not as the official State flower. This provides another symbolic link, one between the official State flag, the official song and the official flower.

The late Carol Beery Davis, a Juneau resident and musician, wrote a second verse to the Alaska Flag song and gifted the words (protected by copyright) to the University of Alaska Foundation in 1987. It has been unsuccessfully proposed as an addition to the official lyrics several times. The last time was during the legislative session of 2011, but the time limit in the Senate expired before the bill could come up for a vote.

External links

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