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Controversial state song may finally change

Flag of MarylandMaryland’s controversial state song – “Maryland, My Maryland” – could soon go the way of eight-track tapes and cassettes if a number of state legislators get their way.

The Civil War-era battle hymn, which makes reference to “Northern scum,” takes its lyrics from a poem written in the early days of the conflict by James Ryder Randall, and with verses like “Thou wilt not cower in the dust, Maryland! Thy beaming sword shall never rust,” gained popularity with Confederate troops before being adopted as the official state song.

One proposal for changing the song is SB0790, sponsored by State Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D) of District 17. Kagan has been pushing to change the state song since 2016, and introduced her bill to “repeal and replace” the current song, which she called “embarrassing and dated and racist,” last week.

Kagan’s plan would replace “Maryland, My Maryland” with a song to be selected via a contest in which “artists, musicians, school kids, historians” would work to create a new song. 

“It would be a thoughtful and inclusive contest,” Kagan said, that would result in “an appropriate song that honors our past that celebrates our present and anticipates our glorious future.”

Another option is HB0508, sponsored by Democratic Delegates Krill Reznik (D-39) and Bonnie Cullison (D-19). This legislation – which will be considered at a House of Delegates hearing March 8 at 1 p.m. – would first abolish “Maryland, My Maryland” and establish a state-level panel to hold three public hearings and make recommendations for a replacement based on public submissions.

“We have had a hard time coming up with a song,” Reznik said. “My bill is not a study. It’s probably time we already do it,” he said of replacing the current song.

Reznik said he initially favored a song performed by the Naval Academy Glee Club in the 1970s, but he was unable to determine who holds the copyright to the song.

Instead of continuing to debate the matter, Reznik said he wants to let a commission “come up with an appropriate group who are experts in Maryland history and music” and choose a new song.

A third, more conservative option is SB0588, which was introduced two years ago but is still under consideration. Under SB0588, the lyrics to “Maryland, My Maryland” would be revised by eliminating certain verses and replacing them words from a second poem called “Maryland, My Maryland,” which was written by John White in 1894.

This option has its own problems, said Baltimore Songwriters Association member Sean Tully, who, in an email to the Sentinel, noted that the authors of both versions of “Maryland, My Maryland” owned slaves, and pointed out that the rhyming schemes of the two poems are different. “It will sound ridiculous when sung (or even read for that matter),” he wrote.

While Kagan was once a co-sponsor of SB0588, she now says she no longer supports the merging of the two poems. 

“To me that’s putting lipstick on a pig,” she said. “Fixing it is better than doing nothing, but replacing it would be better.”

Yet another proposal is HB0608, which is sponsored by Democratic Del. Antonio Hayes (D-40) and provides for the “repealing and reenacting” of the state song with the same combination of poems envisioned in SB0588.

The bill contains language stating that the current poem “in its entirety, is inappropriate as a State song inasmuch as it represents emotions that were characteristic of the most divided period of this country’s history.”

@SuzannePollak

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