Minstrel Musician. Composer of "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," which was named as the official state song of Virginia in 1940, and is probably the only state song written by an African-American. All together, he wrote more than 700 songs, mostly for minstrel shows, including "In the Evening by the Moonlight" and "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers." Bland's interest in music began when he was about 12, and he began composing songs of his own at 15. He added an extra string to the traditional four string banjo, which then became known as a "Bland Banjo." He played in minstrel shows through out his youth, eventually becoming, in 1881, the highest ever paid minstrel man. He also performed before President Grover Cleveland and General Robert E. Lee. Bland's minstrel show toured Europe and gave a command performance before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. After the show ended, Bland stayed on in Europe for another twenty years. In 1901 he returned to the United States almost broke. He lived in Washington DC for awhile, then moved on to Philadelphia, where he died of tuberculosis. His grave remained unmarked and all but lost until 1939, when the Lions Club of Virginia found his burial place and paid to have a marker placed. There is a memorial plaque at the gate of the cemetery giving some information on him. After the Lions Clubs of Virginia discovered his grave and installed the memorialplaque thet also created a living memorial in the form of a statewide Music competition that progresses from local contest through regions and districts to the championship round which is the principal event of the State convention, with prizes in the form of scholarships administered by the Lions' Bland Foundation to be used in furtherance of the winners' musical development, which may be instruction or toward the purchase of a good instrument
Bio by: Jennifer M.