University of Maryland band nixes Confederate state song, could lawmakers be next?

The University of Maryland marching band said Monday it would drop its longtime practice of playing the state song before football games.

“Maryland, My Maryland” — set to the tune of the Christmas carol “O Tannenbaum” — is the latest pro-Confederacy expression to come under fire in Maryland in the wake of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., this month. The song includes nine verses that served as a bloody call to action against President Abraham Lincoln and the “northern scum.”

Lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully for years to change the song, either by rewriting the lyrics or scrapping it entirely. Two years ago, the General Assembly asked the state archives to convene an advisory committee to examine the song; the panel urged lawmakers to revise or replace the song.

Now the Mighty Sound of Maryland, the marching band of the state’s flagship university, has abandoned it. University spokeswoman Katie Lawson said the band decided to suspend playing the controversial tune to “evaluate if it is consistent with the values of our institution at this time.”

The song is also getting renewed attention from state lawmakers, who predicted they would revisit it when the General Assembly returns to work in January.

For years, state Sen. Cheryl Kagan said, complaints about the state song were seen in Annapolis as frivolous or silly. But now, she said, people are beginning to take the issue more seriously.

“It is symbolic of a time in our long-ago history,” the Montgomery County Democrat said. “Calling Abraham Lincoln — one of our most revered presidents — a tyrant and a despot is absurd and offensive.

“It’s time to make a change.”

Kagan said she wants to eliminate the state song, then hold a contest in which Marylanders would submit ideas for new songs for lawmakers to consider.

The lyrics of “Maryland, My Maryland” are drawn from an 1861 poem by James Ryder Randall, who was distraught about the shooting of a friend during the Baltimore Riots of 1861, when Confederate sympathizers clashed with Union troops traveling through the city en route to Washington. Four soldiers and 12 civilians were killed and hundreds more were wounded in the first bloodshed of the Civil War.

In his poem, Randall implored Marylanders to “avenge the patriotic gore / that flecked the streets of Baltimore.”

“Thou wilt not yield the Vandal toll,” he wrote. “Thou wilt not crook to his control.”

The University of Maryland marching band has played “Maryland, My Maryland” as part of the pregame show before Terrapin football games.

Drum major Brian Starace said he was glad to distance himself from the association with the Confederacy.

“It was never something I was too proud to be playing,” the junior music education major said. “It’s for the best to get rid of it.”

Gov. Larry Hogan declined to comment on the university's decision.

“There is one verse in that song which is pretty egregious,” he said.

The Republican governor said he expects the General Assembly to debate the song when it reconvenes in January.

Members of the legislature’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander Caucus have said they’ll renew the push to change the song.

The song gets national exposure each May at the Preakness Stakes horse race. But the audience doesn’t hear the Confederate battle-cry lyrics.

At this year’s Preakness, the Naval Academy Glee Club sang only the third verse, which urges Marylanders to “not cower in the dust” and invokes Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and John Eager Howard, a hero of the Revolutionary War.

“Remember Carroll’s sacred trust,” the Glee Club sang. “Remember Howard’s warlike thrust.”

Sal Sinatra, vice president and general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, said he was not aware of the controversy around the state song. He said there hasn’t been any discussion of removing the song from the Preakness program, but said the Jockey Club would take a closer look at the issue.

State senators voted last year to keep that third verse of the song and add words from an 1894 poem by Western Maryland schoolteacher James T. White. The bill died in the House of Delegates.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. supported the change then, deputy chief of staff Jake Weissmann said Monday, and still supports it.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch wants a new song entirely.

“Our current state song was chosen in 1939 and was written by James Ryder Randall, a Marylander who volunteered for the Confederate Navy,” Busch said in a statement. “That said, our job is not to change the lyrics of Randall’s song. The best way to move forward is to identify a more appropriate song for Maryland.”

Del. Shane Pendergrass, who chairs the House Health and Government Operations Committee, said committee members have been unable to agree on whether to rewrite the state song or adopt a new one.

“I don’t think that anybody is comfortable with racist lyrics,” the Howard County Democrat said.

Del. Eric Bromwell, the committee’s vice chairman, said he expects lawmakers to introduce multiple bills next year to change the song.

“There’s enough reasons between the lyrics being what they are, and the song being more identified with the holidays,” the Baltimore County Democrat said. “I think that there’s probably going to be a lot put into it this year.”

Not everyone wants to change the state song.

Del. Chris West once sponsored a bill to hold a contest for a new state song. But as Confederate-era statues and monuments have been removed in Baltimore, Annapolis and across the nation in recent weeks, he said, he’s come to believe that maybe replacing the Maryland song isn’t the right move after all.

The Baltimore County Republican said he believes a “Pandora’s box” has been opened since Charlottesville.

The white supremacists’ actions in Charlottesville were reprehensible, West said, but “to jump from that to start tearing down statues and destroying the vestiges of our history is a bridge too far for me.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Erin Cox, Talia Richman and Childs Walker contributed to this article.

CONTROVERSIAL LYRICS

The state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” has been criticized for calling President Abraham Lincoln a “despot,” referring to the Union as “Northern scum” and rallying Marylanders to join Virginia in the Confederacy. Here are some of those lyrics:

Verse 1

The despot's heel is on thy shore,

Maryland!

His torch is at thy temple door,

Maryland!

Avenge the patriotic gore

That flecked the streets of Baltimore,

And be the battle queen of yore,

Maryland! My Maryland!

Verse 6

Dear Mother! burst the tyrant's chain,

Maryland!

Virginia should not call in vain,

Maryland!

She meets her sisters on the plain

Sic semper! 'tis the proud refrain

That baffles minions back amain,

Maryland!

Arise in majesty again,

Maryland! My Maryland!

Verse 9

I hear the distant thunder-hum,

Maryland!

The Old Line bugle, fife, and drum,

Maryland!

She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-

Huzza! She spurns the Northern scum!

She breathes! She burns! She'll come! She'll come!

Maryland! My Maryland!

One verse of the song contains none of those references and is sung at the Preakness Stakes:

Verse 3

Thou wilt not cower in the dust,

Maryland!

Thy beaming sword shall never rust,

Maryland!

Remember Carroll's sacred trust,

Remember Howard's warlike thrust,

And all thy slumberers with the just,

Maryland! My Maryland!

trichman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/TaliRichman

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