No finale for Va. state song: No harmony, either, as politicians prolong the competition

Jimmy Dean, a country music legend for his smash hit about a workingman hero, "Big Bad John," and an entrepreneur known for his sausage brand, has died. He was 81.
By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2000; 12:25 AM

RICHMOND, Jan. 5 --

They couldn't name that tune in nearly two years.

After whittling the 400 candidates for Virginia state song down to 50, listening to 17 1/2 hours of ditty upon ditty, narrowing the list down to eight finalists, having the songs professionally arranged, enduring complaints from their own children, frustration from finalists--even a lawsuit from a disgruntled contestant, the committee members charged with recommending a new song to the legislature decided today to take a pass.

The legislative subcommittee on the state song, formed in 1998, voted to wait at least a year before choosing a winner. In fact, committee members said, they now are counting on the public to make the decision for them, hoping that a consensus will form in support of one song after the tunes are more widely disseminated.

The non-decision perplexed and baffled the songwriters waiting to learn which song would be the one chosen as the successor to the now-retired "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia."

"I've been involved with this thing for three years," said sausage mogul and country singer Jimmy Dean, whose song, co-authored by his wife, Donna, is one of the finalists. "I've never had the faintest idea what the [heck] is going on, and I still don't."

Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta), chairman of the State Song Subcommittee, tried to explain. "Our original intent was to make a recommendation," Hanger said. "But I'm cautious at this point, because I don't want to drop the ball. Over the next year, hopefully, we can arrive at a consensus."

Hanger was unsure exactly how that consensus would form, but said the songs would be played throughout the public schools, over the Internet and on the radio. Versions of the eight finalists for state song can be heard on The Washington Post's Web site at Also on the Web site is a message board for comments on the songs.

Hanger said there is a slight possibility that if no consensus is reached, two songs might be chosen.

Other panel members said they hadn't heard the newly arranged versions of the songs until today and thought the General Assembly would not take up the controversial issue this year.

Also, one of the finalists' songs had not been rerecorded, and members believed it would be unfair to make a choice before it was finished.

Virginians have been looking and listening for a new state song since 1990, when then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor, said he found references to "darkies" and "massas" in "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" extremely offensive.

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