by James A. Bland
Carry me back to old Virginny, There's where the cotton and the corn and tatoes grow, There's where the birds warble sweet in the springtime, There's where the old darkey's heart am long'd to go. There's where I labor'd so hard for old massa, Day after day in the field of yellow corn, No place on earth do I love more sincerely, Than old Virginny, the state where I was born. CHORUS: Carry me back to old Virginny, There's where the cotton and the corn and tatoes grow, There's where the birds warble sweet in the springtime, There's where this old darkey's heart am long'd to go. Carry me back to old Virginny, There let me live 'till I wither and decay, Long by the old Dismal Swamp have I wander'd, There's where this old darkey's life will pass away. Massa and missis have long gone before me, Soon we will meet on that bright and golden shore, There we'll be happy and free from all sorrow, There's where we'll meet and we'll never part no more.
The story began with James Bland when he wrote "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" in 1878.
James "Jimmy" Allen Bland was born on October 22, 1854 in Flushing, Long Island, New York. When he was 12 and living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he saw an old black man playing a banjo and singing spirituals. He fell in love with the banjo and tried to make one using bailing wire for strings. This didn't work very well and, besides, a big kid took it and broke it into pieces. Jimmy's father bought him a real banjo for $8.00 and Jimmy taught himself to play... very well.
Later, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Jimmy finished high school and enrolled in Howard University. He was so talented and had become so proficient with the banjo that he was entertaining professionally at private parties and in hotels and restaurants from the time he was 14.
At Howard University, he met a young lady named Mannie Friend. On a trip with Mannie to her birthplace in Tidewater, Virginia, Alan Bland composed "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny". Sitting on the banks of the James River, Mannie wrote the words down on paper while Jimmy played and sang to her.
Though "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" was the only song he wrote that became an official state song, he wrote many more memorable melodies in his lifetime; songs including "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers", "In the Evening by the Moonlight" and 700 others. For additional information about James Allen Bland visit the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the African-American Registry.
The song, "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny", words and music by James Allen Bland, was adopted as the official state song of Virginia by the General Assembly with House Joint Resolution No. 10 in 1940.
Even as it was adopted, some expressed concern over the lyrics. In fact, the name of the song was changed from "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" to "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia", either at the time of adoption or perhaps in 1950 or 1966.
In 1970, Virginia Senator Douglas L. Wilder objected strongly to the song's lyrics with their romanticized view of slavery and worked to dethrone the song with little success. After being elected Governor of Virginia (1990-1994), he again initiated legislative efforts to retire the song.
In 1994, Senate Bill No. 231 was introduced, proposing to modify the words to the original song. Senate Bill No. 231 addressed words within the lyric considered to be offensive to some, but leaving most of the verses intact. Specifically, five words were addressed and changes suggested.
The modified song looked like this:
Carry me back to old Virginia, There's where the cotton and corn and 'tatoes grow, There's where the birds warble sweet in the springtime, There's where this old
darkey'sdreamer's heart am long'd to go. There's where I labor'd so hard for old Massamy loved ones, Day after day in the field of yellow corn, No place on earth do I love more sincerely, Than old Virginia, the State where I was born. CHORUS Carry me back to old Virginia, There's where the cotton and corn and 'tatoes grow, There's where the birds warble sweet in the springtime, There's where this old darkey'sdreamer's heart am long'd to go. Carry me back to old Virginia, There let me live 'till I wither and decay, Long by the old Dismal Swamp have I wander'd, There's where this old darkey'sdreamer's life will pass away. MassaMama and MissisPapa have long gone before me, Soon will we meet on that bright and golden shore, There we'll be happy and free from all sorrow, There's where we'll meet and we'll never part no more.
A later Senate amendment proposed to change the word am to has in the two places.
Also in 1994, House Joint Resolution, No. 179 was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates, requesting the Secretary of Health and Human Services "...to review the official state song and make recommendations for changes to its language, as certain lyrics are offensive to many citizens of the Commonwealth."
Both of these 1994 measures failed to win approval.
In 1996, both the Senate and the House introduced legislation replacing "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" as the state song with "Old Dominion," by Adele Abrahamse. These measures made no progress, however, after being referred to committee.
In 1997, more legislation related to the Virginia state song was introduced, among them Senate Bill No. 801 sponsored by Senator Stephen D. Newman of Lynchburg.
On January 9, 1997 Senate Bill No. 801 was introduced proposing that "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" be declared the "state song emeritus."
This bill had the effect of maintaining the song as an historical document while retiring "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" as the official state song.
It was immediately referred to the Senate Committee on General Laws where a substitute bill was proposed to adopt a modified version of "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" as the state song and, at the same time, adopt the original "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" as the state song emeritus. The substitute proposed:
1. That § 7.1-37 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:
§ 7.1-37. Official song emeritus and official song.
The song "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia," originally composed by James A. Bland, as set out in the House Joint Resolution 10, adopted by the General Assembly of Virginia at the Session of 1940, is declared to be the official song emeritus of the Commonwealth.The revised version of "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" set forth as follows shall be the official song of the Commonwealth:
The lyric change in this substitute was similar to that suggested by Sentate Bill No. 231 in 1994, but not identical. Regardless, the substitute was rejected by the full Senate on January 27, 1997 and Senate Bill No. 801, as introduced, was approved by the Senate on the 28th.
The Virginia House of Delegates passed House Bill No. 801 with one minor amendment, eliminating the effective date, on February 17, 1997.
The legislation designating Carry Me Back to Old Virginia as the state song emeritus was signed by Governor George Allen on March 20, 1997.
The following information was excerpted from the Code of Virginia, itle 7.1, Chapter 5, Section 7.1.37. The words and the sheet music are included within the statute.
TITLE 7.1. BOUNDARIES, JURISDICTION AND EMBLEMS OF THE COMMONWEALTH....
CHAPTER 5. Song, Floral Emblem, Official Dog, Shell, Beverage, etc. of the Commonwealth...
SECTION 7.1.37. Official song emeritus
§ 7.1-37. Official song emeritus. The song "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia," by James A. Bland, as set out in the House Joint Resolution 10, adopted by the General Assembly of Virginia at the Session of 1940, is declared to be the official song emeritus of the Commonwealth.
(Code 1950, § 7-35; 1966, c. 102; 1997, c. 576.)
Virginia General Assembly, (http://legis.state.va.us/), December 13, 2004.
Songwriter's Hall of Fame, (http://www.songwritershalloffame.org) December 13, 2004.
Lions of Virginia District 24-A, (http://www.pwcweb.com/d24alions/) December 13, 2004.
Shankle, George Earlie. State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers, and Other Symbols. Irvine, Calif.: Reprint Services Corp, Revised edition, 1971.
State Songs America, Edited by M.J. Bristow, Copyright 2000.
Shearer, Benjamin F. and Barbara S. State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols: A Historical Guide Third Edition, Revised and Expanded. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 3 Sub edition, 2001.
Carry Me Back to Old Virginny: Notated music from The Library of Congress.
People & Events: The Yale Glee Club Nixes Foster : Controversy over song lyrics for the Yale Glee Club - The American Experience from the national Public Broadcasting System (PBS).
"Our Great Virginia": Virginia state song (Traditional) from NETSTATE.COM.
"Sweet Virginia Breeze": Virginia state song (Popular) from NETSTATE.COM.
State songs: Complete list of official state songs from NETSTATE.COM
More symbols & emblems: Complete list of official Virginia state symbols from NETSTATE.COM.
State Songs of America, by Michael J. Bristow. 185 pages. Publisher: Greenwood (February 28, 2000)
State Songs of America provides the music and lyrics for the official songs adopted by the state governments. Arranged alphabetically by state, each song has a single vocal line over a piano accompaniment, with one verse only under the vocal line and remaining verses appearing separately. Each entry includes the date the song was adopted, the name of the composer, and in some instances, a brief history of the song. The book will be a useful reference for those wanting to perform a state song or to find the official songs of other states. Keep in mind that this book was published in 2000 and does not contain later adoptions.
State Songs: Anthems and Their Origins, by John Hladczuk, Sharon Schneider Hladczuk. 240 pages. Publisher: Scarecrow Press (September 26, 2000)
State Songs: Anthems and Their Origins is a tremendous resource, from which readers will gain insight into the heritage of American statehood. Histories of these songs, biographical information about the composers and lyricists, and background on each song's entrance into status as "official" make this source the most comprehensive in existence.
The entries include sheet music, allowing readers to reproduce for themselves the tunes that have proved so important in the history of the Union. Music teachers, history teachers, librarians, and anyone else interested in learning more about the United States will not want to be without State Songs. Organized alphabetically by state. Keep in mind that this book was published in 2000 and does not contain later adoptions.