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Gary Imhoff
Our Official Songs
October 1999




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Washington, Fair Capital Washington Our Nation’s Capital

dropd.jpg (1416 bytes)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 Washington’s lack of an official song. The Post wrote an editorial seconding Simon’s opinion. Simon decided to run another contest to name an official song, and the Post promoted the contest heavily. Since Simon’s 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 Disney’s “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 Children’s 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 wasn’t a clear declaration that the song was the District’s 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 Dixon’s song.

They didn’t 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 DC’s official song on the spot. The song was “Our Nation’s Capital,” by Lt. Anthony Mitchell, assistant conductor of the Navy Band, with lyrics by Musician 2nd Class Dixon Redditt. The status of Dodd’s 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 Nation’s Capital” as the city’s official march, leaving “Washington” as the city’s 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 city’s official song. The song didn’t pass muster, and the Council failed to act, largely because of discomfort over the open resentment expressed in lyrics like:

“Oh the tourists and the politicians
Come and go and that's fine by me
As long as they know — This is my town
My home town!”

Today, the District of Columbia probably has an official state song, “Washington,” and an official state march, “Our Nation’s 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 city’s song. Both our state song and state march remain largely unplayed and unheard.

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Washington, Fair Capital
Lyric and Music by Edwin N.C. Barnes


Between the River and the Bay, there stands a city rare,
The hills of old Virginia guard her with jealous care.
The shaft which bears her founder’s name, looks down with lofty pride
While Lincoln’s tomb its splendor casts, from old Potomac’s side.

The western world acclaims thy sway, the East sits at thy feet,
A Roosevelt and Wilson here, on common ground may meet.
For Freedom’s boon to Thee doth come, the peoples of the earth,
And prince and peasant join the throng, around our friendly hearth.

O capital of all most great, with beauty unexcelled.
Thy highways broad have oft been trod by patriots, fate impelled.
Thy hosts have heard the roll of war, have seen the courts of peace;
Thy wisdom and thy counsel clear, shall Earth's good will increase.


Washington, Gem of Columbia fair,
Washington, Heralded ev’rywhere.
Ev’ry lap of Potomac’s waves, Ev’ry pulse of a million braves
Sings happy notes when Old Glory floats, Over beautiful Washington.

An alternative verse, as supplied by former Wheatley Elementary School and Eliot Junior High School student May Oakie, was: 

Washington, Washington, we love thy name
Washington, Washington, long live thy fame
Down thy great avenues
Earth's patriots trod
Heart thou art of all the nations,
gateway to God!

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Words and Music by Jimmie Dodd

Washington, the fairest city in the greatest land of all,
Names for one, our country’s father who first answered freedom’s call,
God bless our White House, our Capitol too,
and keep ever flying the Red, White and Blue,

Grandest spot beneath the sun is Washington.

Oh the cherry blossoms bring a lot of joy each Spring,
and the statue of Abe Lincoln greets your eye,
When parades pass in review down Pennsylvania Avenue,
ev’rybody lifts their voices to the sky!

Washington, the fairest city in the greatest land of all,
Names for one, our country’s father who first answered freedom’s call,
God bless our White House, our Capitol too,
and keep ever flying the Red, White and Blue,

Grandest spot beneath the sun is Washington.

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Our Nation’s Capital
Words by Dixon Redditt, Music by Anthony Mitchell

Oh, welcome to our city,
The Capital of our nation,
The fairest of them all.
The tree-shaded city
Beside the blue Potomac
Is sounding a welcome call.
We welcome to our city,
To Washington, our city,
The people of every land.
It’s the White House on the square,
It’s the Cherry Blossom Festival,
The Jefferson Memorial,
And strolling on the Mall.
It’s the Capitol on the Hill,
Guardian of our cherished liberties,
Our nation’s Capital.

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