The composer of the great minstrel show tunes, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”, “In the Evening By the Moonlight”, “De Golden Wedding” and “Oh Dem Golden Slippers,” James A. Bland was born on October 22, 1854 in Flushing, New York.
During childhood, Bland's father, one of the first Negroes to receive a college education, was appointed examiner in the U. S. Patent Office, the first Negro to hold that post and the family moved to Washington D.C., where James attended Public School.
James developed his ear for music singing and writing his own compositions to a banjo accompaniment. As a teenager, he became a page in the U.S. House of Representatives and often performed before members of the Manhattan Club, and at homes of other Washington notables.
After high school, James and his father both enrolled in Howard University; James to study Liberal Arts, and his father to study Law. James graduated at age 19 and his main ambition was to become a stage performer. He applied for positions with some Minstrel groups but was turned down, because they preferred white men playing in blackface. In 1875, he got his first job with Billy Kersands’ all-negro minstrel group. For the next several years he toured the U.S. with Kersands’ group and other companies including Callender's Original Georgia Minstrels (managed by the Frohman Bros).
In 1881, James traveled to England as a member of the Callender-Haverly Minstrels. They were very popular and were highlighted before Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales. At that time, he was making about $10,000 a year, which was quite a bit of money for those years, but Bland was careless about his money. Penniless, he managed to return to the U.S. where a friend got him a job in Washington, D.C. From there he moved to Philadelphia, PA, where he died from tuberculosis on May 5, 1911.
James Bland was buried in an unmarked grave in a part of the negro cemetary in Merion, PA. In 1939. ASCAP found his gravesite, landscaped it and erected a monument.
In 1940, the Virginial State Legislature made "Carry Me Back To Old Virginny" the official state song.