Author: Jacqueline Sahagian

a doctoral student in U.S. history at the University of Virginia, whose work focuses on popular and vernacular music of the United States.
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Virginia State Song

“Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” was the official state song of Virginia from 1940 to 1997. Written in 1878 by the famed Black minstrel performer James A. Bland, it was one of a number of popular minstrel songs that sentimentalized life in the Old South and perpetuated a myth of Black nostalgia for life in slavery on plantations. Legislation to replace “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” was introduced every year between 1988 and 1994. From 1994 to 1997, the Virginia General Assembly made lyric changes to remove Black dialect and references to slavery in an attempt to make the song less offensive. In 1997, the General Assembly demoted “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” from the official state song to “state song emeritus.” In 2015, the General Assembly designated two official state songs: “Our Great Virginia,” based on the folk song “Oh Shenandoah,” was named the official traditional song, and “Sweet Virginia Breeze” was named the official popular song.

 

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