Rhode Island is famous for a lot of things. From the beaches to the universities, the lemonade to the arts (hi from us at Trinity Rep!), there’s a lot to think about when you think of Rhode Island. In this season’s The Prince of Providence, Trinity Rep remembers one of Rhode Island’s most well-known contributions to the national conversation, Providence’s former mayor, Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci. Before Buddy, however, Rhode Island had a different calling card: the song “Rhode Island is Famous for You.”
The song, which you can hear on the Trinity Rep stage during The Prince of Providence, was written for a 1940s Broadway musical revue. The show, titled Inside USA, celebrated each of the then 48 states. (Alaska and Hawaii joined the Union in 1959, eleven years after the 1948 premiere of Inside USA). It played 399 performances and ran one year, closing on Valentine’s Day of 1949. Don’t let its one-year run fool you: Inside USA was a popular outing. It was well-attended, and even moved to the Majestic Theatre after the original production of Kiss Me, Kate claimed its first home, the now-defunct New Century Theatre.
“Rhode Island is Famous for You” has traditionally been interpreted as a love song, from its musical theater inception to later covers, notably by artist Blossom Dearie. In Inside USA, the song was originated by Jack Haley and Estelle Loring, who won a Theater World Award for her performance. Fun fact – Jack Haley also played the Tin Man/Hickory in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz! Other notable members of the Inside USA cast include Beatrice Lillie, also known as Mrs. Meers in the 1967 movie Thoroughly Modern Millie; Jack Cassidy, a Tony Award winner for the original production of She Loves Me and the father of teen idols David and Shaun Cassidy; and Jane Lawrence, featured in the original cast of Broadway’s Oklahoma!.
Jack Haley and Estelle Loring weren’t the only famous names to sing “Rhode Island is Famous for You.” At his 1995 mayoral inauguration, Buddy himself took the stage, and performed the song alongside Broadway actor Robert Goulet. Before then, “Rhode Island is Famous for You” served as the theme song for the Buddy Cianci Show on the radio each week. It’s even rumored that Cianci, who took singing lessons as a child and performed on the radio, regularly hummed the song around City Hall. It’s fitting, then, that 21st-century listeners might recognize “Rhode Island is Famous for You” from the podcast Crimetown, which featured the song during its coverage of Buddy Cianci’s time in office. If you’re interested in hearing it again, Trinity Rep is the right place to visit.
* “Rhode Island Is Famous For You” written by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, ©1948, Published by Chappell & Co., Inc. (ASCAP) administered by Warner Chappell Music, and Bienstock Publishing Company (ASCAP) administered by Round Hill Carlin LLC.