The West Virginia Legislature hits the session’s mid-point, and much important business remains. However, we are pleased that things have not been so busy that a resolution introduced by Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, seems to be moving forward. Mercer would like to see John Denver’s iconic “Take Me Home, Country Roads” become an official state song. The resolution passed the House of Delegates Friday, and moved to the West Virginia Senate’s Government Organization Committee.
If passed, “Country Roads” would become the fourth official state song, joining “The West Virginia Hills,” “West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home” and “This Is My West Virginia.”
While the other three anthems are somewhat well-known, “Country Roads,” written in 1970, by Denver, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, has been an unofficial state anthem for years. Even though critics say the two most prominent geographical features mentioned in the song – the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge Mountains – only touch the state at one point, the song has resonated in the heart of every West Virginian since it appeared on Denver’s 1971 album, “Poems, Prayers and Promises.” The song’s opening chords can stop a conversation, and the beautiful lyrics and melody are as much a part of the state’s heritage as coal mining, Seneca Rocks, or a pepperoni roll.
The song is played at the beginning of every West Virginia University football game, and it is a moving scene to hear the crowd, arm-in-arm, and swaying with the rhythm, singing it following a Mountaineer victory.
It also is recognized by people outside of the state, as Michael Lipton, founder and director of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame noted. Even though Lipton says the honor should go to West Virginia native Hazel Dickens’ song “West Virginia, My Home, he concedes the Denver anthem is the more-recognized song, not only here, but around the world. “My wife and I were in western China,” he said in published reports. “We were at a wedding. There’s a tradition where you get up and sing. We sang ‘Country Roads’ and people got up and sang. It was pretty crazy.”
Hazel Dickens, who died in 2011, was a West Virginia native and an absolute musical treasure. Her “West Virginia, My Home” was probably her most requested song, and is certainly as deserving of this honor as is the Denver anthem. However, it is difficult to think of one song that is so associated with a state as “Country Roads” is with West Virginia.
There are important issues to discuss in Charleston in the coming weeks. But by passing this resolution, the Legislature would be officially recognizing what West Virginians have unofficially recognized for the past 40-plus years.