21 Of The Best Songs About Virginia: Old Dominion Playlist

Like the other 49 states in the union, Virginia has inspired music for many years. There are Virginia-themed songs across many musical genres, some extolling its geographical virtues and others bemoaning loss associated with the place. 

From all of that, we’ve put together a list of the 21 best songs about Virginia. There’s rap, hip-hop, bluegrass, and even an entry from Old Blue Eyes himself. 

1. “My Old Virginia Home” by The Carter Family 

Released in 1936, “My Old Virginia Home” is a terrific representation of what the music of The Carter Family was.

While the Carter Family never had the smash success of the Gene Autreys of the time, A. P., Sara, and Maybelle Carter laid the foundation for modern country music. They also gave the world June Carter Cash and some of Johnny Cash’s children. 

The song weaves a sad, melancholy tale almost as old as humanity— a man who left home seeking adventure and greener pastures realizes his mistake. Throughout the song, he’s returning to his home in Virginia. He’s learned his lesson and plans on never leaving again if he can only get back there.

2. “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” by Lin-Manuel Miranda

From the ubiquitous smash Broadway hit “Hamilton,” “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” tells the story of the end of the American Revolution and the surrender of British forces. It happened at what is now Virginia’s Yorktown Battlefield, where General George Washington commanded Alexander Hamilton and the rest of the colonial forces to victory.

So, you hear “Broadway” and think, “No thanks.” But if you don’t know what “Hamilton” is, you should at least give it a chance. Most people don’t associate rap with Broadway shows, but composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda skillfully paired the genre with the storytelling oeuvre of musical theatre.

“Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” accomplishes a difficult task— it makes the story of the Seige of Yorktown edge-of-your-seat exciting even though you already know how it ends. 

You may not be able to afford tickets, but you can afford the soundtrack. This one song is worth the price of admission.

3. “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” written by James A. Bland

Okay, so the song is problematic. But its historical value remains. Written by Black minstrel James A. Bland (not a blackface minstrel), “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” was the Virginia state song from 1940 to 1997.

The problems with the song revolve around its subject matter, as it’s written from the point of view of a freed slave who wistfully remembers better days on the plantation. 

For the first hundred or so years of the song’s life (Bland wrote it in 1878), few people voiced concern about the lyrics, but as racial injustice continued to mount in the United States, more and more people called for more sensitive treatment of race.

The lyrics can be hard on the 21-century ear, but the melody is lovely. Artists from Ray Charles to Louis Armstrong have recorded versions of it.

4. “James River Blues” by Old Crow Medicine Show

Old Crow Medicine Show is a string band that’s made its mark in the folk music genre. Along those lines, they write and perform story songs and tunes about social ills. “James River Blues” falls into that second category.

The titular river runs through Virginia to the Chesapeake Bay, right through Richmond. The lyrics of “James River Blues” bemoan the loss of older ways in favor of newer industrial, technological advances. The narrator, an 18th-century boatman, watches his livelihood getting replaced by freight trains. 

He questions what he’ll do in the face of this loss, and at the end of the song, he resigns himself to the idea that he’ll be forgotten. It’s kind of a downer.

5. “Sweet Virginia Breeze”  by the Robbin Thompson Band

Robbin Thompson was a songwriter from Richmond, so when he and co-writer Steve Bassett wrote about the dogwood trees, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the relaxing effect of a breeze there, they were writing from experience.

The song has a beach music vibe, and though it was never a huge hit outside Old Dominion, Virginians love it. A lot. 

In fact, when “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” caused more and more unrest surrounding its lyrics and its status as the state song, in 2015, legislators eventually named “Sweet Virginia Breeze” the Official Popular State Song, not to be confused with the Official Traditional State Song.

6. “Our Great Virginia” by Mike Greenly

You won’t find “Our Great Virginia” on any pop or country charts, but as the state’s other Official Song, it has a place in the hearts of Virginians.

We’ve mentioned the problems with “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.” As Virginia approached the 500th anniversary of Jamestown’s founding, many people wanted a new state song in place before that milestone.

They didn’t get the change made in time, but the Virginia legislature agreed to change the state song to “Oh Shenandoah” until a proper, Virginia-centric song could take its place (“Oh Shenandoah” is about the Missouri River). 

Journalist Mike Greenly penned lyrics that revolved around Virginia, and in 2015, “Our Great Virginia” became the state’s Official Traditional State Song.

7. “I Went Down to Virginia” by Frank Sinatra

As the B-side to 1948’s hit “All of Me,” “I Went Down to Virginia” never made the same splash on the charts as its A-side did. Still, it’s a nice diddy about how much the narrator loves the state. 

He shows up, unbidden, and quickly learns the people are kind and welcoming, the state itself is lovely, and the fishing is terrific.

8. “Virginia” by Clipse

On their debut album, “Lord Willin,’” this Virginia Beach pair of rappers added longtime producer Pharrell to the mix, and between Pusha T and Malice, Pharrell adds his own swagger to the mix. The three rappers spit rhymes mainly about their days as drug dealers when they were much younger.

While the song doesn’t glorify the life, the rappers don’t seem upset about having lived it. They do seem to warn potential drug dealers to avoid the state, as it can be a dangerous life. 

Clipse also takes a shot at Virginia’s troubled racial past when they refer to “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.”

9. “Clinch Mountain Backstep” by Ralph Stanley

Dr. Ralph Stanley was a giant on the banjo, and his contributions to bluegrass music can’t be overstated. Starting his own bluegrass outfit with brother Carter, Ralph Stanley almost single-handedly defined what bluegrass music is and isn’t, and he was an innovator on the banjo, too.

A whole playing style has sprung up around his technique, now known as Stanley style.

“Clinch Mountain Backstep” is an instrumental, so there aren’t any lyrics that betray the song’s interest in telling a story with words. 

However, as Clinch Mountain (which Stanley’s band, The Clinch Mountain Boys, got its name) sits at the eastern edge of Virginia, this Stanley signature piece tells a story of its own. The name takes us to Virginia, and the banjo pickin’ puts us right there in days of old.

10. “Virginia Moon” by Foo Fighters

“Virginia Moon” shows the mind-boggling versatility of the Foo Fighters (one of, according to Sir Paul McCartney, the greatest bands in the world). Bandleader Dave Grohl and guest Norah Jones sing sweetly about the nights in Virginia, where Grohl grew up.

Grohl and Jones, to a light bossa nova beat, sing about the beauty of the night skies in Old Dominion. There’s a line about the moon breaking the day into two pieces so that the night, under that moon, is a whole new creation. 

The loveliness of this song can’t be overstated, nor can the surprise that comes the first time you hear it and go, “This is Foo Fighters?”

11. “East Virginia Blues” by Pete Seeger

“East Virginia Blues” is an old folk song first recorded in 1927 by Buell Kazee. The Carter Family had it in their repertoire, as well, but Seeger’s version may be the most widely known. 

His banjo picking in the song is first-rate, and Seeger’s plaintive voice matches the longing in the lyrics. They tell of a man who leaves his Virginia home for North Carolina, where he meets a woman he can’t have. 

In the third verse, Seeger sings about how he’d rather be locked away in the dark than to see her with someone else, and the antecedent of the pronoun “her” is unclear— is it this woman, or is it his beloved Virginia, which he wishes he hadn’t left.

12. “Virginia Plain” by Roxy Music

This is a weird song. It was Roxy Music’s first single back in 1972, and it broke all the rules of what’s supposed to be in a single. The main thing was that there was no chorus. Still, it was a hit, and it didn’t matter that the record company execs couldn’t figure out why.

Frontman Bryan Ferry wrote “Virginia Plain” about a painting he’d done of a pack of Virginia Plain cigarettes and a plain girl (presumably named Virginia) standing out on the plains of Virginia.

Ferry swears the reference in the lyrics to Robert E. Lee is not a nod to the Confederate general but was actually the name of the band’s lawyer.

Like we said, it’s a weird song.

13. “The Ghost of Virginia” by Justin Townes Earle

Earle, whom the world lost in 2020 entirely too soon, wrote a folk song that ticks all the boxes. It’s a sad and lonesome melody, it works best with just guitar and a voice, and it’s about a ghost train.

Okay, so the last one isn’t a must-have for folk songs, but lots of folk tales involve ghost-y things. Here, it’s a train used to ferry soldiers to the front lines in the Civil War, but the train suffered a catastrophic crash.

Since then, it traverses the rails at night, a ghost train presumably still trying to get ghost soldiers to the front.

14. “Night Train” by James Brown

Not so much a song about Virginia, “Night Train” is about moving from place to place. The Mother of Presidents gets a shout-out in the song, but so do several other cities along the east coast. Presumably, these are places Brown and the band visit as they travel and perform their music.

The one thing these places have in common is the train the musicians take to get to them. Brown’s performance of “Night Train” on “The T.A.M.I. Show” got a call-out on the Police’s “When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around,” which reached number three on Billboard’s dance chart in 1980.

15. “Longing for Old Virginia” by the Carter Family

Another seminal recording from the Carter Family, “Longing for Old Virginia” pines for the halcyon days of yore, when the narrator had the woman he loved in the state he loved.

As it stands, he’s far away from her with only plans— plans to return to her with a ring. Here’s hoping it worked out for them.

16. “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” by Laurel & Hardy

The legendary comedic duo didn’t write “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine,” but they made it famous. Musicians Henry Burr and Albert Campbell first recorded it in 1913 and had a hit with it, but some hits don’t last (anybody remember Faith No More’s “Epic”?).

When Laurel and Hardy included it in “Way Out West,” it was a modest hit from a successful film. The hit part came in 1975 when United Artists released a Laurel & Hardy album which included “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.”

Somehow, amid punk, disco, and New Wave, the song made it to number two on Billboard’s UK Singles Chart.

17. “Virginia” by Whiskey Meyers

The Virginia in the lyrics could be the state, or it could be the girl’s name, or it could be both. It depends on individual interpretation.

However, as Meyers sings about feet in the sand under countless stars, anyone who’s been to Virginia knows he’s talking specifically about that place.

18. “Virginia” by Tori Amos

With references to white brothers and beads, “Virginia” recounts white settlers’ exploitation of native peoples and resources. Like many Tori Amos’ songs, it’s not a barrel of laughs.

But her piano skills are on display, and her lyrics paint pictures well. They aren’t pretty pictures, and she wonders if the state remembers its nature and what it used to be before people showed up and ruined everything.

Tori Amos fans will know what to expect from this one.

19. “Orange County Serenade” by Daniel Bachman 

Listening to Bachman’s music is like stepping into a time machine. He’s a traditionalist, playing slide guitar and performing the folk music primarily associated with the Virginia of days long gone.

His voice is a blast from the past, though he doesn’t use it on this instrumental. Still, it’s a song about Virginia because it’s named for Orange County, and the languid slide guitar evokes the place as well as any other sound could.

20. “Virginia is for Lovers” by Jordin Sparks

One of the most iconic ad campaigns of all time, “Virginia is for Lovers” was bound to end up in a song at some point. While songs like Kenny Chesney’s “Get Along” use the slogan, American Idol’s Jordin Sparks recorded a whole song based on it. 

Like so many songs, it looks back on better days. In this case, Virginia was for the narrator and her beau, but now that they’re apart, the state symbolizes heartbreak and loss for her.

Not exactly the message the ad agency wanted to send, but hey, any publicity is good publicity, right?

21. “Happy” by Pharrell Williams

Admittedly, the word “Virginia” appears nowhere in this song. However, it makes this list for a few reasons.

The first is that Williams is from Virginia. Born and raised in Virginia Beach, Williams didn’t leave the state until he headed to college, and he’s returned to perform and hold festivals there since.

Then you have the fact that Virginia was state-song free. In 2013, when the song came out, Virginia had changed “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” from Official State Song to State Song Emeritus, and the state was one of only two (New Jersey) without a state song.

There was a real push to make “Happy” the Official State Song. The argument involved Williams being a Virginian and happiness being something everyone could stand to have more of.

When held up against the original state song, “Happy” seems like a viable alternative.

Summing Up Our List Of Virginia Songs

With so many songs about Virginia out there, we couldn’t possibly cover them all.

This is list a good starting place for tunes about Old Dominion.

Did we leave out one of your favorites? Let us know.

Photo of author
Written by Laura Macmillan
Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.