Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Nothing New

News story for the day, from the Washington Post:

Maryland House speaker wants to repeal Civil War-era state song , Ovetta Wiggins

Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore) said Tuesday that she plans to lead the chorus in calling for the repeal of the state’s Civil War-era state song, which has lyrics urging Maryland to secede and join the Confederacy against the “Northern scum.”

This may feel like a new story. In the context of leadership roles changing in the Maryland State Legislature, or in the wave of national uprisings against police brutality against Black citizens, this may pop out to some as just one more “spur of the moment” initiative to “erase history.” It’s not.

Maryland’s State Song has been known to be problematic for quite some time. And nothing has been done about it. Just like Aunt Jemima, or Unce Ben’s, or the face on your Cream of Wheat box, it’s been sitting there, right out in the open, full of its anti-Union message crafted by a Confederate Sympathizer. If anything is new it is simply a renewed wave of disgust that this undeserving monument has not yet been toppled.

This feels like a particularly old story to me because way back in 2012, longtime family friend (and Howard County musician) Jared Denhard won a contest to replace the Maryland State Song. Here he is with Tom Hall being interviewed on Maryland Morning:

And, in 2016, his song is referenced yet again in an article by Pam Wood in the Baltimore Sun. His composition stemmed from a competiton sponsored by the Baltimore City Historical Society. From the 2016 article:

About five years ago, the historical society sponsored a contest to drum up ideas for a new state song. It had two categories: one for new lyrics to the existing tune and another for new lyrics and music. 

Denhard won for the entirely new song. Dianne Lyday won in the new lyric category. Meanwhile...

According to Wikipedia, 

Unsuccessful efforts to revise the lyrics to the song or to repeal or replace the song altogether were attempted by the Maryland General Assembly in 1974, 1980, 1984, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2016, 2018, and 2019.

New story? I don’t think so. 

Now, I can’t say that Mr. Denhard’s version should automatically be given pride of place here, as it isn’t truly up to the Baltimore City Historical Society to make decisions for the entire state of Maryland. But it’s very existence proves that replacing the state song is no flash in the pan. This has been a long time in coming. 

In 2015 a panel from the Maryland State Archives came up with the following recommendations for a new State Song. It should:

  • celebrate Maryland and its citizens;
  • be unique to Maryland;
  • be historically significant;
  • be inclusive of all Marylanders;
  • be memorable, popular, singable and short (one, or at the most, two stanzas long)

It’s 2020. We can do this. If you need some inspiration, take look at this. Better yet, listen!

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