- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

RICHMOND — Virginia has a state beverage (milk), a state shell (oyster), even a state fossil (Chesapecten jeffersonius).

But it still doesn’t carry a tune — the only state in the union without an official song.

A House panel yesterday rejected a measure that would have designated an adapted version of “Shenandoah” as the interim state song, the latest refrain in a long ballad over which tune best represents the commonwealth.

“The state song ought to be from a Virginian by a Virginian,” said Delegate Terry Kilgore, one of the lawmakers who voted down the “Shenandoah” proposal.

The song, most argued, is about folks leaving Virginia, crossing the “wide Missouri” to escape difficult economic times.

Sen. Charles J. Colgan Sr. brought in a choir from the Shenandoah Valley to make his case for the tune, which was changed to be more Virginia-centric. Mr. Colgan’s proposal re-tooled the lyrics to “Shenandoah,” deleting some of the lines about fleeing the state.

“Oh Shenandoah, we long to hear you. Away, we’re bound away, cross our fair Virginia,” sang the group, known as the Shenandoah Singers.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, who applauded the Shenandoah Singers before voting against the “Shenandoah” proposal, said it is “not appropriate” to honor a song that was originally about flight out of the Old Dominion.

Furthermore, “You cannot go in and completely rearrange the words,” the Salem Republican said.

Only two delegates voted in favor of the song, which would have been the first official state tune since lawmakers retired “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” in 1997 because they felt it was racist.

“Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” was written by James A. Bland, a free black who later became a minstrel. The song, written during the 1800s, includes lyrics about a “darkie” who “labored so hard for old massa.”

Mr. Colgan pledged to keep trying on behalf of “Shenandoah.” “I think someday it will be our state song,” the Prince William Democrat said.

Mr. Kilgore, Scott County Republican, also offered a song suggestion by playing a few bars of “Longing for Old Virginia” by A.P. Carter, of the famed musical family.

State songs have long stirred emotions, especially in the South.

While some Southerners proudly hum more modern state songs — think the Peach State’s Ray Charles-blessed “Georgia on My Mind ” — legislatures in Florida and Maryland have been wrangling over potentially politically incorrect lyrics for years.

In Florida, lawmakers fought over “Way Down Upon the Swanee River,” which refers to “darkies” and plantations.

In 2002, Maryland lawmakers fought over their state song, which refers to Union troops as “scum” and calls President Abraham Lincoln a “despot,” calling it too “divisive.” The tune, “Maryland! My Maryland!” was written during the Civil War by a man who was angry that his roommate was killed by Union troops.

Both tunes remain in place.

Coming up with a new song has a sordid history in Virginia. The panel that was tasked with choosing a song that could be sung at football games and gubernatorial inaugurations hasn’t met for eight years. It did narrow the field of singable submissions from 340 to eight, including a ditty by sausage magnate Jimmy Dean, but no one could agree on their favorite.

The refrain will continue — most lawmakers want an official song in place by the time the state celebrates its 400th birthday with the planned Jamestown 2007 soiree.

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