by James Wyatt Whitehead V
In the early 1870s, a young pre-law student at Howard College was inspired by classmate and future wife, Mamie Friend. James Alan Bland would listen to the homesick sentiments of Mamie and her home in tidewater Virginia. During a trip to meet Ms. Friend’s family the two sat down together with pen, paper, and a banjo. Bland composed his song to illustrate the reflections of a freed slave, who in old age, embraced memories of a former life on a plantation. The apologue conjures up memories of a simple agricultural life, the beauty of the natural world of tidewater Virginia, and a strong affection towards a former master. According to the “Psychology of Music,” Bland uses the key of A to declare innocence, love, cheerfulness, and acceptance of one’s affairs. C minor reinforces key of A with a languishing sigh of a home sick soul. The G major invokes calmness, rustic scenery, faithfulness, and friendship. Using the lens of modern scholarship, it is easy to find flaws of Mr. Bland’s ode. The lines below are difficult, illogical, and subservient to the modern ear.
“There’s where the old darke’ys heart am long’d to go,
There’s where I labored so hard for old massa,
There’s where this old darke’ys life will pass away.
Massa and missis have long gone before me,”
In order to understand “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”, the reader must come to know James A. Bland. He was born on October 22nd, 1854 in Flushing, New York, to a free and educated African American family. James’s father was the first African American to graduate from Oberlin College in 1845. The family relocated to Washington, D.C., in the late 1860s where the head of the family worked as an examiner in the U.S. Patent Office. James and his father enrolled together at the Howard College. Father studied law and son studied liberal arts as a pre law major. Continue reading