- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2005

It may not make the Top 40 charts, but Virginians will soon be able to get a CD that features eight potential state songs.

The commonwealth has been without an official tune for seven years, though lawmakers have narrowed the contenders down to eight finalists.

Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., who has overseen the state song project since 1998, said he will soon announce that the songs will be made available on CD so Virginians can pick their favorite. The voting procedure has not been made clear.

If a new tune is chosen, it still must be approved by both houses of the General Assembly and be signed by the governor.

The Augusta County Republican, who is seeking his party’s nomination for lieutenant governor, said Virginia should have an official state song in place, especially when the state celebrates its 400th birthday in 2007.

“It will be appropriate to have a new official state song in place for that occasion,” he said.

Virginia is the only state in the nation without a song, even though Gov. Mark Warner recently signed a law designating the Virginia big-eared bat as the official state bat.

Other states proudly tout songs such as “Oklahoma” (of the musical fame) and “Georgia on My Mind.” Maryland has “Maryland, My Maryland.”

The Old Dominion has been out of tune since 1997, when the legislature retired “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” because some considered it racist.

It was designated state song emeritus after lawmakers retired it. Critics said its 19th-century lyrics were offensive to blacks, even though it was written by James A. Bland, a free black who became a distinguished composer and musician.

A panel formed in 1998 to come up with a new “singable” and “historic” ballad, but it disbanded last year. In six years, the panel narrowed the list of candidates from 340 songs to eight.

The eight finalists are:

• “Virginia” by Donna and Jimmy Dean

• “Virginia” by Lynn K. Rinker

• “Oh, Virginia” by Robert J. Clouse

• “Virginia’s My Home” by Branan Thompson and David Wiley

• “Virginia, the Land that I Love” by Judy Haile and William Soule

• “Longing for Old Virginia” by A.P. Carter

• “Sweet Virginia Breeze” by Robbin Thompson and Steve Bassett

• “Take Me Home to Virginia” by Gary W. Parker

The tunes already can be played on the state’s Web site, at www.virginia.gov/song/song.html.

The song-selection process was stalled for years, with missed deadlines and copyright disagreements. Some would-be songwriters sued when they weren’t picked as finalists in the panel’s search for the state’s theme song.

The search also was bogged down by politics. Some accused the panel of favoritism when it picked as one of the finalists a song written by Mr. Dean — the sausage king and former country music singer best-known for his 1961 hit “Big, Bad John” — and his wife. Mr. Dean had contributed to some of the panel members’ re-election campaigns. His song remains as one of the finalists.

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