Rouse sings state's praises

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — North Carolina has one, as do most states in America — but not Virginia.

A Grayson County woman hopes to change that with her composition.

For nearly 60 years, Virginia's state song was “Carry Me Back to Ol' Virginny.”

Today, the song's title of official state song has been taken away and a contest to find a new song has been suspended.

“Carry Me Back to Ol' Virginny,” became Virginia's official state song in 1940. The song was written in 1875 by James A. Bland, a distinguished African-American composer and musician from New York who had written more than 700 songs, according to Virginia's state Web site www.Virginia.org.

The song became outdated and controversial in recent years due to “racially charged lyrics.”

In 1997, the Virginia General Assembly voted to remove the song's official status, noting that the state really had not had a song in more than 20 years — as it was rarely played at public events.

The next year, the General Assembly voted to establish a State Song Subcommittee, and in July 1998, the official state song competition began.

By the deadline of Aug. 31, 1998, a total of 339 official entries had been submitted.

Meanwhile, in Nashville, Tenn., a songwriter named Joyce Rouse — more commonly known as Earth Mama — heard about the contest.

Rouse, who now lives in Grayson County, said she desired to submit an entry, but as a professional songwriter in the music capital of America, never got around to it.

Back in Virginia, the songs went through three rounds of judging, with eight finalists named on July 8, 1999.

Virginia's Web site does not elaborate, but simply says that on Jan. 5, 2000, the contest was “temporarily” suspended. That hiatus is ongoing, and Virginia still remains without a song.

Rouse is hoping to change that with her newest song, “Virginia Beauty,” and is looking for help to spread word of the song and get it played across the state.

Two years ago, she and her husband had some friends over for dinner when one of her guests issued a challenge to anyone sitting at the dinner table.

“We were having a pot luck dinner at my house,” Rouse remembers of the night in late 2006. “Debbie Clark brought it up. She said, 'you know that Virginia has no state song?' And right there she issued a challenge to write the words for a new song.”

Two years later, Rouse has a finalized copy that has been professionally recorded and a resolution passed by the Grayson County Board of Supervisors in support of the song becoming Virginia's state song.

Rouse approached the board at its September meeting and even played a preliminary version of the song.

Supervisors passed a resolution in October supporting the tune, noting that “the song 'Virginia Beauty' is an anthem written by a Grayson County resident and named after an apple first grown in Virginia nearly 200 years ago...

“'Virginia Beauty' is warmly received by all who hear it because of the beauty of its music and its glowing representation of the diverse beauty of Virginia.”

The resolution concludes with the supervisors' recommendation that the song be selected as the state song.

Rouse said writing a song for Virginia had been in her mind since she first heard of the contest, but knew this was the right time to sit down and write it. She set out with goal to make the song a “contender” and be something people could latch onto.

“My first goal was to make it singable to the general public,” she said. “The chorus of the song has a very narrow octave range... most songs are made too wide and people can't sing it.”

Her second goal was to make the song have a distinctive melody.

“So many songs have 'stock' melodies,” she said. “You could interchange the words and nobody could even tell a difference.”

Rouse takes pride in writing memorable melodies that have a unique characteristic.

Her third goal was to make sure she highlights all the various regions of the state.

Originally the song was meant to be “fairly short” with two or three verses and a chorus. After digging into the research, Rouse realized there was too much to include to keep it that short.

“This is a very diverse state,” she said. “Every time I added something... something else cried out to be included.”

She was afraid to be nit-picky with her selection, so instead diversified the song more with broader ranges.

In fact, the song's bridge was not originally included, but now celebrates the miners, farmers, artists and scholars of Virginia. It includes the presidents, teachers and various rivers across the state.

Rouse said she feels like she has created a song that the public will enjoy and one that covers the wide scope of Virginia's history.

Her other idea when she began was to have a song that could be done in various genres.

On her CD, Rouse sings a country version, but it also includes a bluegrass version sung by Dale Ann Bradley.

Bradley was recently awarded Female Vocalist of the Year at the 2008 International Bluegrass Music Association's awards.

Darrin Vincent sang back-up for the bluegrass version and took home five awards during the awards. He is a member of Dailey & Vincent. Awards included entertainer of the year, vocal group of the year, album of the year, gospel recorded performance of the year and emerging artist of the year.

Bryan Sutton did the guitar and mandolin work on the track and was Guitarist of the Year in 2000, 2003 and 2004.

When she set out to have the song recorded, Rouse had no idea who would be singing it. After calling a friend in the business, she was connected with the talent — and even then knew little about the awards each had won.

“It's amazing the talent that is on this song,” Rouse said.

The first recording was done locally in October 2007 at Island Creek Recording in Hillsville. “Rick [Slusher's] studio was just amazing,” she said.

Final recordings and masterings were done at County Q and Watershed Studios in Nashville, Tenn.

Once Rouse had the music in hand, she began spreading the word to others — hoping it would catch on.

“People have loved the song,” she said. “It felt really good... it was very satisfying to bring this song around full circle and honoring Virginia's history.”

Rouse is the first to admit that she's not much of a marketer and will be relying on the general public to spread the word of the song.

“If you hear it and you think it should be the state song, share it,” she said. “Contact your legislators and tell them to bring it up in the General Assembly... buy the CD for a friend for Christmas... just share it with friends in other parts of the state.”

Rouse added that people could play it at events, send links of the Web site out to friends and family and tell those people to show support at their local town councils and supervisors

“Nothing would thrill me more than having counties across Virginia pass resolutions in support of the song,” she said. “People can play it in their Christmas parades or in retail stores... just play it.”

Copies of the CD can be bought locally at The Treasury in the Historic 1908 Courthouse, Square One Gallery, The Pear Tree, Rixey's Market, Mill Creek Arts in Galax and on Rouse's Web sites — www.VirginiaBeauty.org and www.EarthMama.org.

The CD includes four tracks — Rouse's vocal full recording of the song, the bluegrass version, a shorter version better suited for radio airplay and an instrumental track that can be used for a backing track.

Also included on the CD is an enhanced PDF file that includes some history of Rouse's work, some history of Virginia, various Web sites and much more.

Rouse feels that her song really shows how Virginia has moved on past some of the negative history and hopes that it will enable people to unite.

“It helps to point out that we have already resolved so much of that conflict,” Rouse said of the fourth verse, which mentions the Civil War. “That is one of the things that divided this state... today we need more things that unite us.”