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State songs: 'West Virginia Hills' shares official status

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Oh, the West Virginia hills! How majestic and how grand, With their summits bathed in glory, Like our Prince Immanuel's Land!"

Those are the first lines to the state song "West Virginia Hills" that all schoolchildren learn to sing in grade school.

But it's not the only state song; there are two others. Can you hum the tune to "West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home" or "This Is My West Virginia"?

Didn't think so.

All three songs were declared equally official in 1963. You would think legislators could take a stand on something.

Ellen King's four-stanza poem was published in 1885 in the Glenville Crescent. Some believe it actually was written by her minister husband, and other sources say he just polished it. Another Gilmer County resident, H.E. Engle, composed the music and added the chorus ("Oh, the hills, beautiful hills"). He copyrighted the music.

The late jazz singer Iris Bell wrote "This Is My West Virginia," and submitted it to the Centennial Commission 50 years ago on her grandfather's 90th birthday.

She said John E. Good, of Sissonville, represented to her the spirit and people of West Virginia. "His love for the hills, his honesty, pride, strength, gentility and humility are what inspired me to write the song."

The commission selected the song as the centennial song, which a Charleston Gazette article said could be sung as a rousing march or as a hymn, depending on the tempo.

Perhaps it was in gratitude for his military service that lawmakers adopted Col. Julian G. Hearne's song, "West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home" as the state's first official song in 1947.

Hearne was a Wheeling lawyer for about a decade before World War II, in which he served as an infantry officer in the South Pacific. He retired from the military in 1960.

Of course, the best-known song about West Virginia, in state and out, is John Denver's "Country Roads." If Dreama Denver has her way, it would become the state's fourth official song.

Denver, who founded the Denver Foundation in Southern West Virginia with her late husband, actor Bob Denver, has been promoting the song. At her urging, Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, introduced a bill this past legislative session to add "Country Roads" to the list of state songs.

The resolution passed the House on voice vote on the last day of the session but was not taken up in the Senate.

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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