Carry Me Back to Old Virginny

"Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" is a song which was written by James A. Bland (1854–1911), an African American who wrote over 700 songs. It is not an adaption by Bland of the "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" by the Christy Minstrels, also known by the title; "Floating Scow of Old Virginny", a song copyrighted by Edwin Pearce Christy in 1847. Bland simply appropriated the song title. Bland's song bears no resemblance to it melodically, harmonically, or in the lyrics (except that both songs are minstrel songs). The latter song was very popular during the California gold rush and the American Civil War. Many parodies were written on this melody and became popular with miners, Civil War soldiers and civilians. Bland's version, the best known, was written in 1878 when many newly-freed slaves were struggling to find work. The song has become controversial in modern times, with critics viewing the lyrics as racially insensitive.

"Carry Me Back to Old Virginny"
Song by Alma Gluck
Recorded 13 November 1914
Songwriter(s) James A. Bland

A third reworded version was Virginia's state song from 1940 until 1997, using the word "Virginia" instead of "Virginny." In 1997, it was retired as state song, largely due to controversy over the lyrics' racial content. On January 28, 1997, the Virginia Senate voted to designate "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" as state song emeritus and a study committee initiated a contest for writing a new state song.

The song was representative of the commonwealth in many ways. "When Clifton A, Woodrum was in Congress, the House of Representatives couldn't adjourn until the honorable Democrat from Roanoke, Virginia with a rich and varied baritone voice led the body in a rendition of "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny]".[1]

In January 2006, a state Senate panel voted to designate "Shenandoah" as the "interim official state song." On March 1, 2006, the House Rules Committee of the General Assembly voted down bill SB682, which would have made "Shenandoah" the official state song.


  • Alma Gluck, whose 1916 version was the first celebrity recording by a classical musician to sell one million copies.
  • Rosa Ponselle recorded a version in 1926.
  • Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in Robert Z. Leonard's 1937 film Maytime.
  • Louis Armstrong and The Mills Brothers, recorded the song together in 1937.[2]
  • Frankie Laine released a version of the song as the other side of the "Mule Train" single.[3]
  • Virginia O'Brien recorded this song in her trademark deadpan style in a dream sequence for Martin Block's Musical Merry-Go-Round.
  • Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album 101 Gang Songs (1961).
  • Jerry Lee Lewis also recorded this song in 1963, his final offer at Sun Records.[4]
  • A set of Christian Swedish lyrics, entitled "Striden på jorden evig ej skall vara", has been written. Bo Andersson and Per-Göran Ekeroos, duet, w. ensemble recorded it on December 3, 1966. The song was released on the extended play Harmoni HEP 264l.
  • Ray Charles released a version of the song on his album Sings for America.[5]
  • The Marching Virginians, Virginia Tech's marching band, regularly plays an instrumental rendition of the song, during its field shows and concerts.

Lyrics (Bland's 1878 version)

Carry me back to old Virginny.
There's where the cotton and corn and taters grow.
There's where the birds warble sweet in the spring-time.
There's where this old darkey's heart am long'd to go.

There's where I labored so hard for old Massa,
Day after day in the field of yellow corn;
No place on earth do I love more sincerely
Than old Virginny, the state where I was born.

Carry me back to old Virginny.
There's where the cotton and the corn and taters grow;
There's where the birds warble sweet in the spring-time.
There's where this old darkey's heart am long'd to go.

Carry me back to old Virginny,
There let me live till I wither and decay.
Long by the old Dismal Swamp have I wandered,
There's where this old darkey's life will pass away.

Massa and Missis have long gone before me,
Soon we will meet on that bright and golden shore.
There we'll be happy and free from all sorrow,
There's where we'll meet and we'll never part no more.


Lyrics (Edward Christy's original)

On de floating scow ob ole Virginny,
I've worked from day to day,
Raking among de oyster beds,
To me it was but play;
But now I'm old and feeble,
An' my bones are getting sore,
Den carry me back to ole Virginny
To ole Virginny shore.

Den carry me back to ole Virginny
To ole Virginny shore,
Oh, carry me back to ole Virginny,
To ole Virginny shore.

Oh, I wish dat I was young again,
Den I'd lead a different life,
I'd save my money and buy a farm,
And take Dinah for my wife;
But now old age, he holds me tight,
And I cannot love any more,
Oh, carry me back to ole Virginny,
To ole Virginny shore.

When I am dead and gone to roost,
Lay de old tambo by my side,
Let de possum and coon to my funeral go,
For dey are my only pride;
Den in soft repose, I'll take my sleep,
An' I'll dream for ever more,
Dat you're carrying me back to ole Virginny,
To ole Virginny shore.[7]

Old Crow Medicine Show: Carry Me Back (2012)

Americana string band Old Crow Medicine Show's 2012 album, Carry Me Back, derives its name from 'Carry Me Back to Old Virginny'. The song with "such a pleasurable melody and such discomfiting politics that it has fascinated bandleader Ketch Secor since he was a kid in Virginia" led him to write "Carry Me Back to Virginia," for the group's album.[8] As Secor reveals:

That song came from a story I was told as a kid. The Confederates ran out of men, so they got 16-year-old boys from VMI, just kids, to march up to New Market, Virginia. I imagine their pride and valor as they marched up that hill and their shock as they heard the screams of the horses in the smoke. I wanted to surprise the listener the same way, so I started off by extolling the virtue of war, then drawing off all that glory till the truth was revealed.[8]


  1. Chittum, Matt. 2018. "Career in the Key of Roanoke". Roanoke Times. Discover History & Heritage. February 2018. Page 100.
  2. "The Louis Armstrong Discography". Archived from the original on 2013-11-07. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  3. Frankie Laine, "Mule Train/Carry Me Back To Old Virginney" Retrieved April 13, 2012.
  4. Jerry Lee Lewis, Up Through the Years, 1958-1963 Retrieved April 13, 2012.
  5. Ray Charles, The Genius Hits the Road Retrieved April 13, 2012.
  6. "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia". Virginia United Daughters of the Confederacy. Retrieved 2017-05-11.
  8. "Troubling Traditions Archived August 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine." by Geoffrey Himes; Issue 52 Paste Magazine 2012.

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