Jimmy Dean, the singer who became a sausage salesman, died recently. Along with Tennessee Ernie Ford, he shed the hillbilly image of country music and became a network TV host and celebrity.
But what you might not know about Jimmy Dean is that he and his wife, Donna, were among the finalists to write a new state song for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
I discovered this on a road map.
On a trip to Virginia, I picked up a map at a welcome station. It had a nice message from the governor and a listing of all the state things, like flowers, birds and trees. Missing was the state song.
By the way, the state bird of Virginia is the cardinal, which is also the state bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia.
But Virginia has been without a song for more than a decade.
The old song was "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny." It was a song that was written from the perspective of a slave and had words like "darkey" and "massa." They don’t play it anymore.
The Deans were among the finalists for the new state song. They wrote a very good one, but no one could agree on a winner, so the state song contest went on the shelf over a decade ago.
I was going to write a column about this several years ago and talked with Jimmy Dean by phone. He was kind of dismayed that his or one of the others was not the state song.
They had all kinds of criteria, including that the song could be performed by a band or orchestra, a choral group or a solo singer.
State songs can be quirky things. Tennessee can’t seem to agree on just one song, they have eight state songs, including "Rocky Top" and "The Tennessee Waltz."
"The Tennessee Waltz" is a great country song, but it is about a person who cuts in on a dance and steals the original dancer’s love interest. Given the propensity of officials in some states to engage in extramarital activity, it may be a fitting state song.
Some state songs should be changed. In 1979, we in Georgia adopted "Georgia on my Mind." That’s a great state song.
West Virginia has a very anthem-sounding song called, "West Virginia Hills." Why didn’t they go for something catchy, like "Country Roads," which has the great lyric, "Almost heaven, West Virginia."
Ohio has a song called "Beaautiful Ohio." According to the state of Ohio, it was written by Robert A. "Bobo" King using the pen name "Mary Earl."
Most folks who are from Ohio will tell you why it is so great. Why didn’t they pick the song, "Ohio" from the Broadway musical, "Wonderful Town"?
It has that great line, "Why oh why oh why oh, Why did I ever leave Ohio?" That’s a profound question. The Ohio state rock song is "Hang On, Sloopy."
Jimmy Dean is gone and the great Commonwealth of Virginia stands as the only one without a song. They ought to honor him by picking the one he wrote.
Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column appears every week in Sunday Life.