The Lions of Virginia first became interested in James A. Bland in 1938 as the composer of the stirring song, "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia." Impressed by the patriotic fervor and nostalgic quality of this lyric, the Lions began a campaign which resulted in the General Assembly of Virginia officially adopting the song in 1940 as the Virginia State Anthem. In 1994 the Virginia State Senate adopted the revised song "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" as the state song. The legislature of Virginia voted to retire the song in February 1997 because its lyrics were offensive to some. The Lions of Virginia honor the man who wrote these melodies and not the song.
Continuing its inquiry into the career of this distinguished composer, the Lions found that his grave was unknown and unmarked. Investigation located the grave in a cemetery in Merion, PA. A suitable monument was erected over the grave of James A. Bland.
The Lions of Virginia were not content that a monument of granite should suffice to memorialize the work of the composer of our official state song. As a permanent living memorial they established the Virginia Lions Bland Music Scholarship Program. Scholarships for musical excellence in both instrumental and vocal performance are awarded annually. The first Bland contests were held in 1948 with state finals in Roanoke. Two awards for $150 were given to the winners. Through the interest and efforts of the Lions of Virginia, the Bland awards have grown from 1 to 12 scholarships and cash prizes continually increase. This project is financed entirely through voluntary contributions from the Lions Clubs throughout the State of Virginia. ,
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