Wyoming, Where I Belong
Song written as accompanying piece becomes second state song
July 17, 2019
Courtesy SZABO MUSIC
During the summer of 1903, Judge Charles E. Winter of Encampment put pen to paper and wrote a poem entitled "Wyoming." The words, describing a new state that was young and strong, were given a score shortly thereafter by Earl Clemens, editor of the Grand Encampment Herald. It wasn't until 1955 that "Wyoming" was officially adopted as the Wyoming State Song and, in that time, a new score had been written by George Knapp, director of the music department at the University of Wyoming.
At the 16th Annual Grand Encampment Cowboy Gathering last summer, 115 years after Winter first wrote the poem "Wyoming," the headlining due of Amy and Annie Smith played "Wyoming Where I Belong," a song inspired by the original poem and by the state that their family has called home for five generations.
"It was these two men that started in Encampment. I loved the history of that and it was the newspaper editor that brought them in into that. And we liked the fact that the lyrics on that described Wyoming, basically, as a new state," said Amy.
Amy and Annie, twin sister musicians that have toured the world, have a deep connection to Wyoming and the state capital. Their great-great-grandfather, Maurice Dinneen, was in Irish immigrant who settled west of Cheyenne in 1879. The Dinneen family would become instrumental in the development of Cheyenne as Amy and Annie's great-grandfather, W.E. Dinneen, founded the Dinneen Bros. Grocery Store with his brother, Maurice, Jr.
Eventually, W.E. Dinneen would also venture in the car business.
"First as a livery stable, but he could see, with the Lincoln Highway coming through Cheyenne, that cars would be the next wonderful thing that was going to come to America. So, he was always ahead of his time," Amy said.
W.E. Dinneen's son, William J. Dinneen, ventured out of Wyoming where he graduated from Annapolis and received a commission as a Navy commander. The elder Dinneen, however, encouraged his son to abandon the commission and return to Cheyenne to help manage the car dealership.
"I'm glad he did, because otherwise we might not be here," joked Amy.
Due to the connection that Amy and Annie had to the Cowboy State, they would find themselves quite often homesick when they would tour the globe under the Warner Brothers label. Originally written in 1998, "Wyoming Where I Belong" debuted in New York City's Central Park and quickly gained popularity.
"The response we would get all over the world was how this song brought them back a feeling of a romantic image of the West. This feeling of home. We'd get emails from the Czech Republic and ... from little stations in different countries that would play this song and they just loved it," said Amy.
As the song gained popularity over the years, discussion began of it being made the second Wyoming State Song. For Amy and Annie, their intent had never been to write a state song nor to replace the original. To them, "Wyoming Where I Belong" was just a compliment to "Wyoming."
"I just love the history of the people of Wyoming and we would never want to substitute what had gone before because you learn from the history," Amy said.
Among the legislators that pushed for "Wyoming Where I Belong" to become known as the second state song was Representative Jerry Paxton.
"Jerry Paxton was the representative in that area that was very much a part of 'Wyoming Where I Belong' in the legislature and was very kind on speaking on behalf of 'Wyoming Where I Belong' to become a second state song," said Amy.
Last July, the legislature voted for "Wyoming Where I Belong" to become the second state song, just around the same time that the duo performed in Encampment. For the duo, it seemed only fitting to take the song that was inspired by "Wyoming" to the place where it all started.
"In a way it's not ours at all. It just went through us," Amy said.
For links to both songs, visit www.saratogasun.com.