The spectacular Shenandoah National Park |Photo Credits: virginia.com

Shenandoah: The Spirit of the Mountain

The state of Virginia is home to one of the places on earth with rich and abundant wildlife — the Shenandoah National Park. Also, it is one of the most popular getaway destinations not only in Virginia but in the whole country. In 1926, then President Calvin Coolidge signed a legislation authorizing the Shenandoah Valley as a national park. Located at the northwestern frontier of Virginia and West Virginia, the valley is surrounded by the majestic mountains of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And, along the area flows the effervescent Shenandoah River.

The Shenandoah Valley |Photo Credits: virginiasshenandoahvalley.com

The word Shenandoah was derived from the Algonquian word schind-han-do-wi which literally translates into “spruce stream,” “great plains,” or “beautiful daughter of the stars.” The name of a river and valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Virginia, it was popularized as a given name by the folk song of the same name.

Interestingly, the place has been very prominent and popular in country music. As a matter of fact, it has been mentioned a couple of times in country songs like John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Additionally, an American country music group took their name after it — Shenandoah. As obvious as it is, it has played a very important role to country music artists. It is a haven of tranquility, serenity, and peace, and the quintessence of a true country life.

Furthermore, it is also a popular American folk song which dates back to as early as the 19th century. Although sung and performed by several different artists, the traditional folk song takes the credit to an uncertain origin.

About the Folk Song

A song in the early 19th century, “Oh Shenandoah” or simply called “Shenandoah” (Across the Wide Missouri) is a traditional American folk tune. It has originated with the Canadian and American voyageurs or fur traders traveling down the Missouri River in canoes. The song contained several different sets of lyrics depending on which they were referring to whenever they sing.

By the mid-1800’s, versions of the song had become a sea tune popularly sung or heard by sailors around the world.

Here are the first two stanzas of the folk music:

Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Look away, you rollin’ river
Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Look away, we’re bound away
Across the wide Missouri.

Now the Missouri is a mighty river
Look away, you rollin’ river
Indians camp along her border
Look away, we’re bound away
Across the wide Missouri.

Well, a white man loved an Indian maiden
Look away, you rollin’ river
With notions his canoe was laden
Look away, we’re bound away
Across the wide Missouri.

In 2006,  many proposed that “Shenandoah” be the “interim state song” for the state of Virginia, with the updated lyrics. However, many argued, especially historians, that the standard folk song actually talks about the Missouri River. In addition, they said that in most versions of the song, the name “Shenandoah” refers to an American-Indian chieftain, and not the valley or the river which lie almost entirely in Virginia. Hence, in 2015, the Virginia Legislature considered “Our Great Virginia“, which uses the melody of “Shenandoah,” as the official traditional state song of Virginia.

Tennessee Ernie Ford |Photo Credits: allmusic.com

To note, over 50 artists covered the song. However, American recording artist and television host Tennessee Ernie Ford rendered the most notable and popular version which he released on his 1959 album, Shenandoah for Red Door Productions. Overall, his version was heartfelt, and his impeccable performance was worth watching and listening to!

WATCH: Tennessee Ernie Ford sings this American folk song.

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