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Washington State Flag Washington

The Washington State Folk Song

Roll On Columbia, Roll On

words and music by Woody Guthrie

    Roll on, Columbia, roll on
    Roll on, Columbia, roll on
    Your power is turning our darkness to dawn
    So roll on, Columbia, roll on.

    Green Douglas firs where the waters cut through
    Down her wild mountains and canyons she flew
    Canadian Northwest to the oceans so blue 
    Roll on Columbia, roll on

    Other great rivers add power to you
    Yakima, Snake, and the Klickitat, too
    Sandy Willamette and Hood River too
    So roll on, Columbia, roll on

    Tom Jefferson's vision would not let him rest
    An empire he saw in the Pacific Northwest
    Sent Lewis and Clark and they did the rest
    So roll on, Columbia, roll on

    It's there on your banks that we fought many a fight
    Sheridan's boys in the blockhouse that night
    They saw us in death but never in flight
    So roll on Columbia, roll on

    At Bonneville now there are ships in the locks
    The waters have risen and cleared all the rocks
    Shiploads of plenty will steam past the docks
    So roll on, Columbia, roll on

    And on up the river is Grand Coulee Dam
    The mightiest thing ever built by a man
    To run the great factories and water the land
    So roll on, Columbia, roll on

    These mighty men labored by day and by night
    Matching their strength 'gainst the river's wild flight
    Through rapids and falls, they won the hard fight
    So roll on, Columbia, roll on

Adoption of State Folk Song

Grand Coulee Dam Construction
Grand Coulee Dam Construction, 1941
Courtesy: Charles Hubbard

The history of "Roll On Columbia, Roll On" is tied directly to promotional work of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) in the early 1940s. One of the aims of the BPA was to electrify small rural farms and communities that were not profitable for private utilities to serve. The BPA, created in 1937 by the Roosevelt Administration, was responsible for the construction of the Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams on the mighty Columbia River and for selling and distributing power from the river's federal hydroelectric facilities. Construction was essentially completed on the Bonneville Dam in 1938 and on the Grand Coulee Dam in 1941.

Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) produced a movie in the early 1940s intended to encourage rural northwest residents to electrify their homes and farms. As a part of this project the BPA hired Woody Guthrie to write songs for the movie. They paid him $270 for 30 days of work. During this time, he wrote 26 songs, "The Columbia River Ballads." Among the songs, the most popular was "Roll On Columbia, Roll On", a song about the taming of the powerful Columbia River and memorializing the project.

Because of the song's message and popularity, it was established as the official folk song of the State of Washington in 1987.

Revised Code of Washington

The following information is excerpted from the Revised Code of Washington, Title 1, Chapter 20, Section 073. The words and the sheet music are included within the statute.

    The legislature recognizes that winter recreational activities are part of
    the folk tradition of the state of Washington. Winter recreational activities
    serve to turn the darkness of a northwest winter into the dawn of renewed
    vitality. As the winter snows dissolve into the torrents of spring, the Columbia
    river is nourished. The Columbia river is the pride of the northwest and the
    unifying geographic element of the state. In order to celebrate the river which
    ties the winter recreation playground of snowcapped mountains and the Yakima,
    Snake, and the Klickitat rivers to the ocean so blue, the legislature declares
    that the official state folk song is "Roll On Columbia, Roll On," composed by
    Woody Guthrie.

    [1987 c 526  4.]


Source: Washington State Web Site, (http://www.state.wa.us), December 8, 2004
Source: Washington State Legislature, (http://www.leg.wa.gov), December 8, 2004
Source: State Names, Seals, Flags, and Symbols by Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer, Copyright 2002
Source: State Songs America, Edited by M.J. Bristow, Copyright 2000




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