Quick. What’s your state song?
I know. It’s okay.
Nobody knows state songs.
I spent a day on the Mall, where people from many different states come to look at the Hope Diamond and pay too much for a hot dog, and I stumped students, teachers, university professors and lawyers when I asked them to name their state song.
Only one person knew.
This crucial, jugular issue is consuming precious time in the Virginia legislature right now.
Virginia had a state song. But it took the strenuous objections of Doug Wilder, the nation’s first elected black governor, to force the retirement of the cringe-inducing poetics on slavery. That was back in 1997.
Since then, there have been votes, a subcommittee, a contest, a lawsuit, accusations of influence peddling, and allegations of bribery and impropriety up and down the hills of Old Virginny. And the drama is continuing in this session.
So thank you, House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) for spearheading the real issues of the commonwealth and taking on the task of introducing legislation to name “Our Great Virginia” as the official song.
“There’s a state song?” asked a man from Virginia when I tried to talk to him about it.
He was dapper, older, wearing a fine jacket on an afternoon at the museum. He looked like the kind of guy who would care about this.
“Nope. I couldn’t care less,” he said.
State songs are funny things.
Most of them are formal marches or decrepit tunes with lyrics that include words like “thy.”
I’m from California. I was sure the state song was a Beach Boys tune. Or maybe the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’ ”?
It’s “I Love You, California,” which sounds like the scratchy score from a silent movie and was last publicly played at President Ronald Reagan’s funeral.
Seriously. Listen to it. Nothing about it says California. Even 1921 California.
I talked to lots of folks from Maryland. None of them knew about the dreadful “Maryland, My Maryland,” sung to the tune of “O Tannenbaum.”
And none of them forgave me for bestowing them with that knowledge and the earworm that will last until Sunday.
So how about an easy one. Alabama?
The woman from Alabama heading to the National Archives confessed that she had no idea what her state song is.
I know. We were both thinking the same thing.
But no. No Lynyrd Skynyrd, no sweet home in sight.
It’s something called “Alabama,” composed by Edna Gockel Gussen. And it sounds like it belongs in an Esther Williams swim spectacular.
Three young women from North Carolina in the mammals section at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History looked like cheerleaders. Cheerleaders would know this, right?
“Um, nope,” said one. “No,” said another.
“You’d think they would teach it to us in school or something. But no, I’ve never heard it,” said Halle Wilson, 18.
Maybe they’re too young.
I looked for someone who might be older, highly educated, professorial, even. A man wearing a sweater vest!
“I’m sorry, I have no idea,” said Bob Blankenship, 66, a biochemistry professor from St. Louis.
He’s heard the Missouri Waltz, he said, but had no idea it was a state song.
“I grew up in Nebraska.”
Okay, then, professor. What’s the Nebraska state song?
“Uh,” he said.
It’s “Beautiful Nebraska.”
There is only one state that has a really good state song.
Georgia. Yeah, give me Ray Charles singing “Georgia on My Mind” any day.
And you’ve got to admire Colorado for adding a second state song in 2007. “Where the Columbines Grow,” authorized in 1915, is just right for a second-grade choir. But adding John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” was foreshadowing the inevitable in that state.
There is only one other state in America that doesn’t have a song, besides the struggling Virginia.
That’s New Jersey.
May we suggest “Bridge Over Troubled Water?”
After an entire day of this, I was getting worried.
But then I found her. Cathy Richardson, 57, who was in the middle of the Human Evolution exhibit at the Smithsonian.
She threw her head back and belted her state song, in a beautiful, church-choir voice and a Longhorn twang.
“Texas, Our Texas! All hail the mighty state!” Richardson warbled.
Of course a Texan would know.
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.