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Loss of Jimmy Dean could revive interest in Virginia state song

Rosalind Helderman

Virginians looking to honor country music singer, television actor and sausage magnate Jimmy Dean, who died Sunday at 81, could renew a push to adopt a Dean-penned song as Virginia's official state anthem.

Virginia is one of the few states that has no official tune. It's been without one since 1997, when the General Assembly retired "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia," because its lyrics were deemed racist. The state has repeatedly tried to choose a replacement, notably by appointing a 12-member committee that sifted through 400 suggestions and whittled them down to eight finalists.

One of those finalists was the appropriately titled "Virginia." It was a ditty played for legislative committees by its composer, song-writer and Varina resident Jimmy Dean.

But the state-song legislative process broke down years ago, as lawmakers splintered. (There was even a lawsuit, from a man who claimed the committee was biased in favor of Dean.)

"It just got into politics, and you know how things get when they get into politics," Dean told the Post in 2006, at a time when the state was considering naming the song "Shenandoah" as the official state song.

"'Shenandoah' really has no reference to Virginia," Dean said then, still pushing his own tune. "Ours was written for and about Virginia."

So might the General Assembly return to work, this time to honor longtime Virginia resident? Possibly.

Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta), longtime state song guru, said Monday morning that he is quite anxious to restart the state song conversation. Hanger said he recently had a conversation Jimmy Fortune, who used to sing with the Statler Brothers, about recording versions of all eight of the state song committee's finalists, along with "Shenandoah" and, likely, a song about Virginia that Fortune has written with his wife. Having one artist record all the possibilities, Hanger said, might level the playing field between the options and help legislators finally make a selection.

"It's an item of unfinished business," Hanger said.

Hanger said he was reminiscing with his wife Sunday, upon hearing the news of Dean's death, about the television star's involvement with the process. He recalled meeting Dean and his wife Donna at a restaurant in Lexington, Va., once to talk about the issue.

"He came in with his entourage in a limo," Hanger recalled. "It pretty much took up a whole city block in Lexington."

When Dean sat down, Hanger said his own wife immediately told him what a fan she was of his music. "Oh, so you're the one," Hanger said Dean joked back.

"He was just a real neat fellow," Hanger said. "He had such a rich history...I'm sure there are things we'll do to honor him. I'm not sure we'll honor him in that way. But he was one of the finalists."

By Rosalind Helderman  |  June 14, 2010; 9:46 AM ET
Categories:  House of Delegates , Rosalind Helderman , State Senate  
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Jimmy Dean dead... Sure he was 81... But what about Sara Lee's CEO? She had a stroke! Could it be that they might be poisoning themselves?? Along with the rest of America?

What do you guys think?

Posted by: shlomitandroypethostel | June 14, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

After the 1948 shock of the Air Force, he and a band, Texas Wildcats, who played in the DC area. This year, made the Country Music Hall of Fame. We played every dive in Washington

Posted by: susan166 | June 14, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

The song "Shenandoah" refers to the same named river in Iowa which flows into "the wide Missouri." The lyrics never made sense until I learned that it's not about the VA river. Source: Dick Spottswood on WAMU.

Posted by: asburke | June 14, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Back in the 50s Jimmy Dean had a 15 min. daily show on Channel 7. He shared the half hour with "Sam and Friends." Sam was similar to the Cookie Monster except he kept eating Kermit. Kermit always introduced the show as follows, "Sam and Friends, brought to you by Esskay, taste the difference qu - ahh - lity makes." The Muppets were on Jimmy Dean's national show.
Elvis appeared on Jimmy Deans show. Roy Clark go fired for failing to show up. Part of local country music lore.

I wonder how many people remember impressario Connie B. Gay of WGAY?

Posted by: asburke | June 14, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

The very brief time I met Jimmy Dean back in the 80's, he was a funny, nice guy. RIP Mr. Dean.

As far as our song goes, I have always felt it should be "Sweet Virginia Breeze".

Posted by: janeway1 | June 14, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

and...... you get paid for these articles...

Posted by: rockettonu | June 14, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

...the General Assembly retired "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia," because its lyrics were deemed racist....

So, whats new?

Posted by: mloaks | June 14, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

I can see changing Virginia's changing its state song, "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia," because it's lyrics were "deemed rascist." But are we ever going to change the picture on the $1 bill because George Washington, the Father of Our Country, owned slaves? Slavery in the U.S., represents a horrid, shameful past and so does "witch" burning, but the idea of attempting to sweep it all under the rug somehow doesn't feel right. Sterling Greenwood/AspenFreePress

Posted by: AspenFreePress | June 14, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

The old state song was about a former slave who was nostalgic for the happy times he had working for his master in Virginia. Its departure was not an example of political correctness run rampant.

But, now we need a new state song.

Posted by: Simon23p | June 15, 2010 12:59 AM | Report abuse

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