State song is still sound of silence




Like judges on “American Idol,” a panel of legislators this week deliberated over a song – a tune that had been proposed as Virginia’s new state song.

It didn’t make the cut.

“At Home in Virginia,” a bluegrass ballad written by Richmond retiree Evi Bergin, got the boot from the House Rules Committee.

Delegate Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, had proposed that “At Home in Virginia” be designated as “the official song of the Commonwealth.” Virginia has been without a state song since 1997, when the General Assembly retired “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” because of its racially offensive lyrics.

Carr sponsored House Bill 833, which said Virginia “requires an official song that can be sung on all occasions with pride and affection” – a song that “should reference the rich tradition of the Commonwealth and invoke images of the natural and scenic beauty its citizens celebrate.”

HB 833 recommended “At Home Virginia” for that honor. But on Tuesday, the committee tabled the bill on a voice vote.

Bergin spent a decade crafting her song. She believes it is worthy to be the official state song.

“I just kept writing and rewriting it until I got this song,” Bergin said. “It wants to encourage people; that’s why it’s good.”

The song boasts of Virginia’s natural beauty – from honeysuckles and sunsets to “a cardinal that’s singing by the lacy dogwood tree.” It also highlights the commonwealth’s role in history and its nickname as “Mother of Presidents.”

Carr is glad that Bergin and her song got an audition.

“She is a very impressive individual and has been working on this song for about 10 years,” Carr said. “She certainly deserves a hearing, just like everyone else.”

Now living in a retirement community in Richmond, Bergin, 67, has spent a lot of her time trying to make “At Home in Virginia” the official state song. She talks about her song as if it were her child.

“I kept singing and changing it little by little for eight years, until I loved it,” Bergin said.

Virginia had adopted “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” as the state song in 1940. It was written in 1878 by an African American minstrel, James Bland. The lyrics are in dialect and express nostalgia for the days of slavery. The final verse says: “Carry me back to old Virginny… There’s where this old darkey’s heart am long’d to go.”

African Americans and many other people considered the lyrics offensive. In 1997, legislators made “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” the state’s “official song emeritus.” Since then, they have been searching for a new state song.

* * *

Lyrics to ‘At Home in Virginia’
From beyond the Blue Ridge mountains to the seashore or the Bay
Sunset in Virginia can take your breath away
A cardinal that’s singing by the lacy dogwood tree
Boast of Virginia’s natural beauty
Honeysuckle vine by fields of corn
Loving and learning, families are formed
Wisdom from a mentor teaches right from wrong
We’re traveling in Virginia now; won’t you come along?

Chorus:
We are the people of Virginia
Strong and brave, bold and free
Feel right at home in Virginia
Land of hope and liberty!
“Mother of Presidents,” “Mother of States”
First surviving English settlement, opened up the gates
For the first lawmakers, in old Jamestown
The shaping of our nation, history handed down.
We honor those who died, hope with those who live
Each one in our Commonwealth has something to give
Giving love is from above, as we stake our claim
“Virginia is for Lovers,” is more than just a name

Chorus
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Weekend Top 10


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Celebrate National Pie Day and make decorative and delicious-looking paper pies from 3:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. at Glen Allen Library. For details, call 501-1950 or visit http://www.henricolibrary.org. Full text

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