Back to Gary Imhoffs home page Back to previous column
Government and People
oes the District of Columbia have an official state (or city, depending on your preference) song? Every few years, someone starts a movement to name a song that he has written in praise of Washington as our official song, and every few years the movement falls flat when it is pointed out that the District already has an official song even though nobody ever plays or sings it. But the answer is not that simple, and the history of DC's official song is complex.
In 1926, the Federation of Music Clubs held a contest to write an official song, but the contest is only referred to in one newspaper clipping, and there is no evidence whether the contest had a winner or whether any winning song ever gained any official status.
However, in 1927, Dr. Edwin N.C. Barnes, the supervising director of music for the District's public schools, wrote the music and lyrics for and published Washington, Fair Capital, which was sung by students for several decades as through it were a state song. This song has fallen into complete disuse today.
Newsman John Jay Daly wrote a song, whose name is not recorded, that he later said was given official status by Commissioner John Russell Young in 1928. Since a single Commissioner couldn't have named an official song on his own, this was probably an unofficial officialdom.
In 1951, local businessman James H. Simon wrote a letter to the Washington Post lamenting Washingtons lack of an official song. The Post wrote an editorial seconding Simons opinion. Simon decided to run another contest to name an official song, and the Post promoted the contest heavily. Since Simons company, the Simon Distributing Company, was the local representative for Motorola, the Motorola company sponsored the contest, distributed blank music sheets for entries, and offered a $1,000 prize for the winning entry. The five contest judges were a distinguished lot: Howard Mitchell, the director of the National Symphony Orchestra; Sigmund Romberg, the composer; Maj. William F. Santelmann, director of the Marine Band; Sigmund Spaeth, the musicologist and radio's song sleuth; and Gordon Jenkins, the composer, arranger, and music director for Decca Records.
The winning entry was Washington, by Jimmie Dodd, who was a struggling Hollywood actor, singer, and composer at the time. He reached the height of his career a few years later, when he was the head Mouseketeer on the first television version of Disneys Mickey Mouse Club. Washington was a popular winner, called head and shoulders above the other entries, but it was almost never played or sung after the initial enthusiasm died down. The Commissioners did pass a resolution giving official recognition to it. It was published in the Washington Post, but never published commercially; and a demonstration recording was made by Sam Jack Kaufman and Roy Roberts, but it was never recorded commercially. James Simon later gave the remaining five hundred copies of the recording away to anyone who gave a contribution to Childrens Hospital.
Only five years later, in 1956, the Federation of Citizens Associations recommended that The District of Columbia Is My Home Town, by local real estate agent James F. Dixon, be named as the District's official song. This recommendation got as far as a hearing before the Commissioners. When the issue of the Jimmie Dodd song was raised, the Assistant Corporation Counsel, Robert Kneipp, gave as his opinion that the Commissioners 1951 resolution only recommended that the citizens of the District adopt Washington as their official song, and that it therefore wasnt a clear declaration that the song was the Districts official song. Others raised the issue of whether the Commissioners had the power to name any official song, or whether that power rested solely in Congress. In any case, the Commissioners passed on Dixons song.
They didnt pass only five more years later. In 1961, two Commissioners attending a Navy Band concert heard a new song there, and were so enthusiastic about it that they named it DCs official song on the spot. The song was Our Nations Capital, by Lt. Anthony Mitchell, assistant conductor of the Navy Band, with lyrics by Musician 2nd Class Dixon Redditt. The status of Dodds already forgotten song was raised again at a later official meeting of the Commissioners, and this time the Commissioners seemed to accept that Washington was DC's official song, because they adopted a resolution naming Our Nations Capital as the citys official march, leaving Washington as the citys official song.
Things remained relatively stable until 1985. Then City Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis introduced a bill to name This Is My Town, by Mark A. Williams, as the citys official song. The song didnt pass muster, and the Council failed to act, largely because of discomfort over the open resentment expressed in lyrics like:
Today, the District of Columbia probably has an official state song, Washington, and an official state march, Our Nations Capital, but lawyers could probably argue that neither actually has an official status, and both songs are unknown to the population of the District and have no support among elected officials and school officials, those who normally promote official songs. The official DC web site even erroneously lists The Star Spangled Banner, the national anthem, as the citys song. Both our state song and state march remain largely unplayed and unheard.
Washington, Fair Capital
Back to top of page
Send mail with questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site copyright ©DCWatch (ISSN 1546-4296)