With its criticism of Abraham Lincoln’s “despot’s heel” and “northern scum,” the state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” has inspired decades of controversy for its Confederate sympathies.
Jamie Raskin, the U.S. representative for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, has addressed that by co-writing another song that refers to the Chesapeake Bay, orioles and figures from the state’s abolitionist and civil rights history.
“Maryland is a state all about freedom, democracy,” said Raskin, a Democrat. “Why do we have a pro-Confederate anthem that was sung by Robert E. Lee’s troops?”
Raskin’s song, “Maryland, My Maryland (The Free State Song),” eliminates the original song’s “O Christmas Tree” melody and lyrics, the latter of which were drawn from an 1861 poem by Baltimore native and Confederate sympathizer James Ryder Randall.
Randall’s work condemned the violence visited upon Baltimore during the early stages of the Civil War and encouraged Maryland to secede with states that made the enslavement of African Americans legal.
The new song celebrates Black abolitionists such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, as well as historical Baltimoreans such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, singer Billie Holiday and poet Edgar Allan Poe and the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.
Raskin co-developed the song with Steve Jones, the musical director of the D.C. Labor Chorus. Elise Bryant, the chorus director and executive director of its parent Labor Heritage Foundation, was involved in the back-and-forth process by which Raskin developed words, while Jones turned those words into musical couplets and developed the melody.
“I was the wall to bounce it off of, in case there wasn’t agreement, but there always was,” Bryant said.
The trio got started because Bryant mistakenly thought there was a contest to replace the song, she added.
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In a video version of the new song, Jones plays piano accompaniment for singer London Mevaa, a student at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville. Raskin premiered the song during a breakfast for Maryland delegates at last week’s Democratic National Convention, where he said it gained an enthusiastic reception from former Gov. Martin O’Malley and other state Democrats.
The song was published Aug. 19 to the Jamie Raskin For Congress YouTube channel. Since then, Raskin said, the song has been largely received positively from listeners, although it has incurred some online backlash.
Raskin’s song arrived about two months after Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Democrat from Baltimore County and the first Black woman to serve in her role, advocated for the repeal of the original “Maryland, My Maryland” as the state song. Her call, like Raskin’s song, echoed national conversations and momentum around the removal of Confederate and other monuments associated with white supremacy around the country.
“The Speaker announced earlier this summer her support to repeal the State song,” a representative for Jones emailed Wednesday. “Given the myriad of other issues happening in the State right now, she has not focused on other suggestions for a replacement or whether there should be a replacement at this point.”
While Raskin said he doesn’t want discussion of the state song to “get caught up in the greater culture wars” surrounding Confederate monuments, Jones said it is relevant to the present moment.
“A couple of days ago, it’s kind of nice, someone called me up ... and she said, ‘You know what you guys just did? You’re pulling down a Confederate monument musically,‘ ” Steve Jones said. “It’s going on around the country — we’re just part of a larger thing.”