Beautiful Nebraska: The lyrics of our state song come to life

Photo by AJ Dahm


Jim Fras lay down in the tall grass of a farmer’s field near Roca, south of Lincoln, on a summer day in 1960 when it occurred to him just how good the good life could be.

“Beautiful Nebraska,” he said to himself, “peaceful prairie land.”

Inspired by the experience that afternoon, Fras composed “Beautiful Nebraska,” with help on the lyrics from his friend Guy G. Miller. The song would eventually become Nebraska’s official state song.

Fras appreciated the good life of Nebraska as few others could; before he arrived here as a refugee at age 26, his life had been unimaginably hard.

Courtesy Fras Family

He was born in the Soviet Union in 1925, the son of a wealthy miller and landowner – exactly the sort of people the Bolshevik regime hated. When he was still a toddler, Stalin’s forces killed his father and confiscated his family’s land, forcing the surviving family members to flee for their lives to another Russian town. When Fras later became a child prodigy on the piano, he had to perform under an assumed name – his family was still blacklisted.

He was a teenager when Nazi Germany invaded his homeland during World War II. His brother left to fight in the Soviet army and was never seen again, while his mother and sisters were captured by the Nazis and sent to Germany as slave laborers. Fras traveled a thousand miles behind enemy lines to find his family in Germany, briefly reuniting one last time before the Germans conscripted him as a laborer, too.

Fras remained in Germany after the war, but his mother and sisters had been forced to return to Russia. However, he started a family of his own during the six years he spent in a post-war refugee camp, marrying Polish refugee Irene Horek, with whom he had two sons, Wally and Nick. The young family started their American life when they immigrated to Lincoln in 1952.

The Fras family had some lean times when they first arrived in Nebraska, but they soon were thriving, with Irene working at Lincoln’s Russell Stover candy factory and Jim playing music at the Lincoln Air Force Base officers’ club. When Fras heard of a contest for an official state song, he entered his ode to his adopted home state. After seven years, the state legislature finally selected “Beautiful Nebraska” in 1967. Nebraska schools began teaching the song to all fourth graders.

“It’s still being taught in schools,” said the composer’s son, Nick Fras, a BNSF train conductor who lives in Lincoln. “My sons, 38 and 36 now, learned the song at school – of course, they already knew it – and my 9-year-old grandson’s class was just learning about the song a few weeks ago.”

Jim Fras died in 2002, but his musical gift to Nebraska lives on. -Matt Masich


Beautiful Nebraska

Words by Jim Fras and Guy G. Miller

Beautiful Nebraska, peaceful prairie land,
Laced with many rivers and the hills of sand;
Dark green valleys cradled in the earth.
Rain and sunshine bring abundant birth.

Beautiful Nebraska, as you look around,
You will find a rainbow reaching to the ground;
All these wonders by the Master’s hand;
Beautiful Nebraska land.

We are so proud of this state where we live,
There is no place that has so much to give.

Beautiful Nebraska, as you look around,
you will find a rainbow reaching to the ground:
All these wonders by the Master’s hand.
Beautiful Nebraska land.

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