There were plenty of empty seats at Fairfax City Hall yesterday, but the cavernous City Council chamber was filled with patriotic songs and tapping toes.
The occasion was a public hearing called by a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee that is studying proposals to change the lyrics of the state song, "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia," or scrap it for a new one.
During the General Assembly's most recent session, state Del. Thomas M. Moncure Jr. (R-Stafford) proposed the study after he was unable to gain support for his legislation to change the state song's lyrics, which include references to "the old darkey's heart" and the slave who "labor'd so hard for old Massa.' "
The song, written around 1875, has offended some Virginians, including Moncure and Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder (D), with its sentimental references to slavery. Others say they feel that changes would be tantamount to erasing part of the Old Dominion's history.
Both views were passionately expressed, in words and song, by the small group that gathered yesterday in Fairfax City at the third of five hearings to be held around the state.
Adele Abrahamse of Charlottesville belted out her suggestion for a new state song, "The Old Dominion."
"All right!" said one woman. "Great song!" said another. "That was be-yoootiful -- I loved it!" said yet another.
The words, sung to a folksy tune, went like this:
"My song is for the Old Dominion./ How I love this land!/ Her rolling hills bring comfort/and strength to where I stand./ Her flowing waters fill the Bay/ that joins the mighty sea . . . . "
"Thank you for the clapping, but you didn't get to hear the cardinal at the end," said Abrahamse, who sang to the accompaniment of recorded music.
Front Royal resident Carol Steele received a standing ovation from all 12 persons present with her song, "Home is Still Virginia," which she described as "gentle bluegrass."
To banjos and guitars, it begins: "I've traveled far and moved around/ I'm down to my last dime/ I've seen a lot of little towns/ But none have been like mine/ I've said hello and passed the time/ With folks along the way/ But home is still Virginia/ And I'm headed there today . . . . "
Alice Nicols, a native Virginian from Marshall, called any attempt to change the state song a "disgrace." She told subcommittee members that if they wanted to start changing things, they should start with some of the "vulgar" songs young people are listening to today. Nicols had no objection, however, to keeping "Carry Me Back" and adopting another. "Then we have a choice," she said.
Ray Parker had another idea. "Like Henry Mancini, I believe the key to a good song is a good title," said Parker, who passed out copies of his record. Parker said he has a copyright to the song, "Virginia is for Lovers," and that he would be more than willing to relinquish it. Then, he said, the state song could compete worldwide with other hit songs and capture the attention of "Sinatra on down."
After two more hearings, in Harrisonburg and Richmond, the subcommittee will vote on recommendations for the next session of the legislature, Moncure said.