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By Cort Olsen, Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The House of Delegates joined the Senate on Tuesday in approving both “Our Great Virginia” and “Sweet Virginia Breeze” as official state songs. But will Gov. Terry McAuliffe sign the legislation into law?
The House voted 81-15 in favor of a bill to designate:
- "Our Great Virginia” as “the official traditional state song.” The song combines the melody of “Shenandoah,” a ballad from the 1800s, with words by New York lyricist Mike Greenly. This song is the preference of House Speaker Bill Howell.
- “Sweet Virginia Breeze” as “the official popular state song.” This is an up-tempo pop tune by Richmond musicians Robbin Thompson and Steve Bassett.
The measure designating the state songs is Senate Bill 1362, which was approved 37-1 by the Senate on Feb. 10. It represents a compromise: Originally, SB 1362, sponsored by Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Henrico, included only “Sweet Virginia Breeze.” But it was amended to incorporate SB 1128, which sought to designate “Our Great Virginia” as the state song.
A third song – “Virginia, the Home of My Heart,” by Richmond singer-songwriter Susan Greenbaum – had been in the running. But the bill promoting that song died in the House Rules Committee two weeks ago.
Greenbaum said she is still hopeful for her song. “It isn’t over, from what I have been told,” Greenbaum said. “The governor still hasn’t signed any of the songs into law yet.”
Virginia has been without a state song since “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” was retired in 1997 for its racist lyrics.
When it comes to the songs, the votes at the Capitol don’t exactly mirror the votes on social media.
On YouTube, for example, “Sweet Virginia Breeze” has been played more than 42,000 times, with about 200 likes and three dislikes. The folksy “Virginia, the Home of My Heart” has been played about 12,000 times, garnering 140 likes and five dislikes. “Our Great Virginia” also has been played about 12,000 times, with 50 likes and 21 dislikes.
About 4,800 people responded to an online poll in which Capital News Service asked, “What’s your No. 1 choice to be Virginia’s next state song?” About 56 percent preferred “Sweet Virginia Breeze”; 41 percent, “Virginia, the Home of My Heart”; and 2 percent, “Our Great Virginia.”
The remaining 1 percent of the respondents suggested other songs, like “Virginia Pride” by David Tuck, “Rolling Home to Old Virginia” by The Press Gang and even “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
Several people who took the unscientific poll criticized “Our Great Virginia,” saying it evokes Missouri rather than Virginia. A plurality of the comments extolled “Virginia, the Home of My Heart,” calling it heartfelt and dignified. Many other people said they enjoyed “Sweet Virginia Breeze” because it is upbeat and catchy.
Some respondents said Virginia voters should decide the issue. “Please put this on a ballot and let the PEOPLE NOT THE POLITICIANS decide what their state song should be. After all it’s THEIR state song isn’t it?” one person wrote.
But a few respondents supported the two-song solution. One person commented, “Why not two state songs? I vote for ‘Sweet Virginia Breeze’ for the fun one and ‘Our Great Virginia’ for the one to play at funerals.”