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Back to Drawing Boards for the Virginia State Song


The beautiful old tune, "Carry me back to Old Virginny" is so melodic, the southern state of Virginia made the tune -- written by an African-American minstrel in the 19th century -- its official song in 1940.

But over the years, the Virginia Legislature in Richmond grew uncomfortable with the song, since it is written from the viewpoint of a slave and includes lyrics like, "There's where the old darkey's heart am long'd to go." Not to mention the colloquial reference to the slave's master: "I labored so hard for Old Massa . . ."

"Darkeys" and "Old Massa": not exactly a progressive image for Virginia. So out went "Old Virginny," and, in its place as the state song, came another old, familiar tune, "Shenandoah," which begins, "Oh Shenandoah, I long to hear you . . . ."

This lilting sea shanty seemed perfect, since Virginia has a gorgeous valley, a fine river, a battlefield, and even a university named "Shenandoah."

But then people realized the song is all about LEAVING the state for another river, referred to in the song as "the wide Missouri," which is nowhere NEAR Virginia!

So somebody jiggled the lyrics so they'd read "our fair Virginia" rather than "the wide Missouri." But this month the legislature scrapped "Shenandoah," too, opening the door for any songwriter who can come up with a fresh, geographically correct, and racially sensitive new song for Old Virginny.

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