Steve Jones (left) and U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin collaborated on a potential replacement for Maryland’s state song. Jones wrote the music to go with Raskin’s lyrics. Photo courtesy of Jamie Raskin

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Best New Take On an Old State Song

In early 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin got a call from Elise Bryant, executive director of the D.C. Labor Chorus. Past legislative efforts to do away with Maryland’s official state song, “Maryland, My Maryland”—written at the outset of the Civil War by a supporter of the Confederacy—had fallen short. Bryant wanted the Takoma Park Democrat to compose a potential replacement. “She said, ‘The political debate is just in a complete deadlock, and we can break it with a song.’ I thought it was a beautiful idea,” says Raskin, an avid blues and jazz pianist. “I said, ‘Of course, [but] I would need a real musician to work with.’”

So, while many of his colleagues were on the campaign trail, Raskin spent “five weeks of intensive work” during last summer’s congressional recess collaborating with Steve Jones, who lives in Kensington and is the music director of the D.C. Labor Chorus. With Raskin focusing on the lyrics and Jones on the music, they created “Maryland, My Maryland (The Free State Song).” While the current state song derides Abraham Lincoln as a “tyrant,” Raskin’s replacement candidate pays tribute to Marylanders central to the struggle for equal rights: Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Thurgood Marshall. A reference to U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, a revered figure who died in 2019, brought tears when Raskin debuted a recording of the song at a Maryland delegation virtual breakfast during the Democratic National Convention in August. “It lifted my spirits to get to work on it. …I know it’s given rise to other people writing songs, and that’s fantastic,” says Raskin, a former state senator who hopes 2021 will “finally be the year for the General Assembly to sing a new tune. I won’t be in Annapolis to vote on it, but this song is my vote.”