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“(Back Home Again in) Indiana” is a song composed by Ballard MacDonald and James F. Hanley, first published in January 1917. While it is not the official state song of the U.S. state of Indiana (“On the Banks of the Wabash”), it is perhaps the best-known song that pays tribute to the Hoosier State.
The tune was introduced as a Tin Pan Alley pop-song of the time. It contains a musical quotation from the already well known “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away”, as well as repetition of some key words and phrases from the lyrics of the latter: moonlight, candlelight, fields, new-mown hay, sycamores, and of course the Wabash River.
In 1934, Joe Young, Jean Schwartz, and Joe Ager wrote “In a Little Red Barn (on a Farm down in Indiana)”, which not only incorporated all the same key words and phrases above, but whose chorus had the same harmonic structure as “Indiana”. In this respect it was a contrafact of the latter (see “A jazz standard” below).
In 1917 it was one of the current pop tunes selected by Columbia Records to be recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, who released it as a Columbia 78, A2297, backed with “Darktown Strutters' Ball”. This lively instrumental version by the ODJB was one of the earliest jazz records issued and sold well. The tune became a jazz standard. For years, Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars would open each public performance with the number.
Its chord changes undergird the Miles Davis Bebop composition “Donna Lee”, one of jazz's best-known contrafacts (a composition that overlays a new melody over an existing harmonic structure). Other lesser known contrafacts of Indiana include Fats Navarro's “Ice Freezes Red” and Lennie Tristano's “Ju-Ju”.
Since 1946, it has been an annual tradition for the chorus of the song to be performed during the pre-race ceremonies at the Indianapolis 500. In most years from 1972 to 2014, it was performed by Jim Nabors. Nabors has admitted to having the song's lyrics written on his hand during his inaugural performance, and occasionally his versions have altered several of the words. The singing is backed by the Purdue All-American Marching Band. In 2014, Nabors performed the song for the final time after announcing his retirement earlier that year, saying: “You know, there's a time in life when you have to move on. I'll be 84 this year. I just figured it was time … This is really the highlight of my year to come here. It's very sad for me, but nevertheless, there's something inside of me that tells me when it's time to go.” In 2015, the song was performed by the a cappella group, Straight No Chaser. For 2016, the song was sung by Josh Kaufman.
The song is also featured prominently at the Indiana State Museum where a steam clock plays the tune at the top of every hour.
Since 1991 Indianapolis TV station WISH-TV used components of the song in their news themes, and since 1997 Fort Wayne TV station WANE-TV (WISH-TV's sister station owned by LIN TV) has also used components of the song in their news themes. Stephen Arnold Music's Newsleader and “Counterpoint with Indiana” (a.k.a. WISH-TV News Music Package) and 615 Music's “In-Sink V.4” (a.k.a. “In-Sink with Indiana”) are news music themes that have the “Back Home Again in Indiana” Signature.
It is also used to open every Little 500 bicycle race held at Indiana University.
Actress and Indiana-native Florence Henderson performed the song on a 1977 episode of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour and on a 1980 episode of Pink Lady and Jeff.