Sunday, January 17, 2016

97th Regimental String Band – "Maryland, My Maryland" (1989)

She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb
Huzzah! she spurns the Northern scum! . . .
Maryland! my Maryland!

As we learned in the previous 2 or 3 lines, many official state songs are obscure and forgettable.  A few, however, suffer from a severe case of political incorrectness.

Stephen Foster
The first great American songwriter was Stephen Foster, who was born on July 4, 1826, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Foster never lived in the South, but many of his songs had Southern themes – including “Old Folks at Home” (also known as “Swanee River” or “Suwannee River”) and “My Old Kentucky Home,” both of which were written for the famous New York City blackface group, Christy’s Minstrels.

Christy's Minstrels
The original lyrics of “Old Folks at Home,” which became the official state song of Florida in 1935, romanticize the peculiar institution of Southern slavery.  In 2008, the Florida Legislature approved new lyrics for the old song.  The most notable change was the substitution of “brothers” for “darkeys.”

“My Old Kentucky Home” was actually an anti-slavery song – inspired by Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the ballad was praised by abolitionist Frederick Douglass – but its lyrics also included “darkeys.”  

James A. Bland, who grew up in a family of free Negroes in New York City and graduated from Howard University in 1873, wrote over 700 songs.  The two most famous are “Oh! Dem Golden Slippers” and “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” another minstrel tune that was the state song of Virginia from 1940 until 1997.

If you wonder why “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” is no longer the state song of Virginia, just take a gander at the song’s first verse:

Carry me back to old Virginny
There's where the cotton and corn and taters grow
There's where birds warble sweet in the spring-time
There's where this ol' darkey's heart am long'd to go

The official state song of Maryland – Virginia’s neighbor to north and the state I’ve lived in for the last 30-plus years – is “Maryland, My Maryland.”  That song is set to the familiar tune of “O Tannenbaum,” and its lyrics are taken from a nine-stanza poem written by a pro-Confederate resident of Baltimore, James Ryder Randall, after a friend of his was killed by Union soldiers during an anti-war riot in “Charm City” in April 1861.

The 1861 Baltimore riot
The first verse of Randall’s poem urges Marylanders to “[a]venge the patriotic gore/[t]hat flecked the streets of Baltimore.”  Later, Randall calls for Free Staters to “burst the tyrant’s chain” and support Virginia and her other slave-state “sisters” on the battlefield.

Randall was a poet with a strong finishing kick.  The lines quoted at the beginning of this post are from the song’s ninth and final stanza “Maryland, My Maryland.”  Huzzah indeed!

James Ryder Randall
It may surprise you that one of most liberal states in the country would still have a state song that called on Marylanders to secede from the Union – “spurn the Northern scum,” in Randall’s words – and go to war on the side of the slave-owning states of the Confederacy.  But past efforts to replace that song with one that’s more politically correct have failed.

Recently, a state advisory group recommended that the song’s lyrics be rewritten or an entirely different song selected.  I’ll bet dollars to donuts that the days of “Maryland, My Maryland” are numbered.

In the next 2 or 3 lines, we’ll turn our attention to Maryland’s state motto.  A Republican state senator recently introduced a bill to change that motto because he thinks it is sexist.

The 97th Regimental String Band describes itself as “is a eudaemonious concatenation of jocular harmonists that provides both vocal and instrumental music of the 1800’s.”  Its recording of Maryland’s official state song was released in 1989 on the band’s Tenting on the Old Campground album.

Click below if you’d like to purchase that album from Amazon:

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