Ever since I was a child, I’ve watched the Miss America Pageant with awe and fascination. This year – astoundingly – I’ve been invited to attend in person. That’s a result of my having written the lyrics to Virginia’s official new anthem, “Our Great Virginia.”
The song was broadcast throughout the state in June as part of the competition to select the Miss Virginia who will represent the Commonwealth in Atlantic City. Just that was a thrill for me: hearing my words performed by previous Miss Virginia winners to the entire state.
At the national televised Pageant, I will be the guest of Kylene Barker McNeill … Miss America (1979.)
Kylene is one of the Preliminary Judges this year, with the huge responsibility of helping to select the top 15 finalists from an initial 52 contestants convening in Atlantic City. She and her fellow Judges will determine who will be featured in the Pageant broadcast (Sunday night, Sept. 13, LIVE on ABC, 9:00 pm EST.)
Even though I’ll be Kylene’s guest, through mutual friends, I’m forbidden from having any contact with her during the week leading up to the Pageant. Strict rules protect the impartiality and integrity of judges from outside influences.
Actually, I’ve not even met Kylene in person. But she has already enriched my knowledge of what a “beauty queen” really is. For one thing, take a look at the kind of Acrobatic Dance skill she developed. This talent was among the many reasons she became Miss America.
Obviously – aside from the beauty, poise and intelligence required to be a winner — the ability to perform in this way takes tremendous discipline and commitment … surely a reflection of character.
In addition, however, as I’ve come to know Kylene through emails and phone conversations, I realized that she’s a person of tremendous accomplishment. (Getting to know her, firsthand, has raised my respect for all successful Pageant competitors.)
Kylene is a successful entrepreneur. At only 23, she was running her own retail clothing store on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, FL. (That’s the ritzy equivalent of posh Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.) She’s a published author, has done network TV fashion reporting and — having majored in fashion at Virginia Tech — produces fashion shows today to benefit charities including the Cancer Alliance in Naples, FL. She has also been a corporate spokesperson for Clairol and other organizations. She is also a rather serious competitor on the golf course.
Already I’ve come to appreciate the fact that the Miss America Organization (MAO) is the single largest scholarship program for women in the United States. It has helped many young women graduate debt-free, despite the tremendous cost of a college education these days.
I was impressed to learn, as well, that MAO partners with the U.S. Department of Education to encourage women to excel in areas that are currently under-represented by female participants: science, technology, engineering and math.
Bottom line: I’ve been learning a lot! I’ve begun to see more clearly how the entire competition rewards its participants for their hard work and drive, with remarkable educational and career opportunities that result.
I’m looking forward to attending the Pageant in person, and to sharing some of my on-site impressions with you right here!
After almost twenty years without a state song, the Commonwealth of Virginia now officially has two … one of which, astoundingly enough, is mine!
As of July 1, 2015, “Our Great Virginia” became the official anthem of the Commonwealth … the Traditional State Song of Virginia. (“Sweet Virginia Breeze” by Robbin Thompson became the official Popular Song.) Governor Terry McAuliffe signed both songs into law on March 26.
In mid-August, 2015, my two Virginia champions of the song … Historian, Prof. James (“Bud”) Robertson and his dynamic wife Betty … visited New York City from their beloved state to join me, DJ Tony Smith, and Jim and Sophia Papoulis for a celebration of what we had accomplished together.
Crucial to making this happen was Virginian, Truman Ross. When Bud was looking for a lyricist, Truman helped by turning to my best-in-class professional song plugger in Nashville, Chris Keaton (originally a Virginian, himself) who recommended me.
The assignment was to write lyrics to the classic American folksong, “Oh, Shenandoah,” long associated with Virginia. (One of these days, I hope to visit the Shenandoah Valley and see the Shenandoah River in person.)
Composer/Conductor Jim Papoulis – my partner in composing three of the four Dance Club songs I’ve written that became Billboard-charted hits – did the beautiful arrangement of the folk song with my words.
Sophia Papoulis – in addition to her gorgeous vocals in one of its performances – helped manage the project with grace and professionalism.
And DJ Tony Smith – a bona fide legend from the Disco Days, who’s still at the top of his game – helps me pursue my passion for songwriting and makes my life happy in countless ways. (If you want to hear his work, he has a regular Disco Classics program on Sirius XM Radio, Channel 54, every Thursday night @ 9pm Eastern … repeated Mondays at 1pm Eastern. The sounds and focus vary from week to week.)
So the six of us had a wonderful dinner at Gallagher’s Steakhouse. The next night, the Robertsons, Tony and I saw “Hamilton” … one of the most impressive and influential Broadway musicals I will ever have seen in my decades of avid theater-going.
So … let it be known … Happy Workaholic I may be … but we did take time to celebrate in style. I’m immensely honored (and still amazed) actually to have written a real state song. And I’m grateful to my parents, Sam and Lucille Greenly, who gave me the strong work ethic that still powers me today as I use the few real aptitudes I have – as a writer … whether of speeches, video scripts or songs. I’m a happy and lucky guy.
I cannot be objective about this movie, “Begin Again.” It has too many personal connections for me … too many levels on which I, in particular, would inevitably enjoy and be touched by it. I was so affected by it, in fact, that I don’t trust myself to recommend it in a blanket way to others.
BUT … Hypothetically speaking …
If you happen to relate to the power of a song – not just “music” but an actual SONG — to reach into people’s hearts … and if you like tapping your feet and swaying gently to a beat even as you’re being moved … and/or if you have any reason to relate to the actual inspiration, creation and production of a song …
If you have experienced, as I have, the feeling that everything you thought you could count on in your life has disappeared beneath your feet – suddenly dropping you into an abyss and leaving you in doubt as to if and how you could possibly carry on, let alone imagine yourself actually happy again some day …
If you enjoy smart, contemporary screenwriting that can make you laugh AND feel pangs of poignant emotion, both in recognition of what’s true …
If you admire clever, insightful direction … wonderfully thoughtful, intelligent and sensitive acting … and savvy set and costume design …
And if, perhaps, you remember and enjoyed the movie “Once” and/or the Broadway Musical (winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical” – written and directed by John Carney who created “Begin Again”) …
Then, maybe … that’s all I’m saying … maybe you will consider this movie as wonderfully special as I did. But given who I am, given the person I’ve become, I simply couldn’t help myself.
So I surrender. I love this movie. (And I’m listening to the sound track as I write this … even as I’m thinking of the next song I will write — immediately following the speech I’m working on right now for a major exec I very much enjoy supporting.)
Growing up in South Carolina, even while being taught about my home state, I developed a special reverence for Virginia and its place in the nation’s history. It’s known, of course, as the birthplace of our first President … then Jefferson … continuing through to Woodrow Wilson. I’ll never be able to brag about my personal knowledge of history, but I know enough to realize that Virginia has a special heritage. Amazingly — earlier this year — I was honored to be invited to write a tribute in song to the state.
The person who reached out to me was award-winning professor and author Dr. James I. (“Bud”) Robertson, Jr. With his wife Betty, he has been on a six-year mission to find a fitting anthem for the state they so deeply love. Virginia has gone for many years without an anthem of its own. In 1940 “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” — composed as “Virginny” by James A. Bland (1854-1911,) an African-American minstrel — was designated the official state song. In 1997 it was retired from official use because its lyrics were considered offensive by many Virginians. (Understandably so!) Dr. Robertson’s quest for a new anthem began in 2008, when he conferred with key members of the Virginia legislature about pursuing the creation of a new state song to the melody of “Shenandoah.” The idea was enthusiastically received. Since then, according to Dr. Robertson, he has been an avid one-man committee in trying to get a worthy song produced. Thanks to the recommendation of my professional “song plugger” in Nashville – Chris Keaton (a native Virginian, himself) – I was introduced to Dr. Robertson. Chris is not only one of the finest professionals in his field, but a wonderful friend, as well. I quickly turned to one of my songwriting partners, Jim Papoulis, who can quite legitimately be called a global leader in choral music – in both composing and conducting. Together – with Lead Vocals by Sophia Miller – we created a tribute to the state, entitled, “Our Great Virginia.”
If you know someone who lives in Virginia – or loves it – I hope you’ll let them know that there’s now a new musical tribute to a place they care about. Here’s the complete Press Release, if you’d like to review it. Media coverage:
OUR GREAT VIRGINIA
You’ll always be
our great Virginia.
You’re the birthplace of the nation.
was changed forever.
Today, your glory stays,
as we build tomorrow
I fill with pride
at all you give us –
rolling hills, majestic mountains,
from the Shenandoah
to the Atlantic
rivers wide and forests tall,
all in one Virginia
For each of us
here in Virginia …
from farm to city dweller …
all of us, we stand together.
We’re yours, we all are yours –
across our great Virginia
You’ll always be our great Virginia
Based on “Oh Shenandoah”, American folk song dating back to at least the early 1800’s. Arrangement: Jim Papoulis. Lyrics: Mike Greenly Vocal: Sophia Miller Choir: Fairfax Choral Society Concert Choir Director: Patrick F. Vaughn
Mother’s Day is approaching … and although my mother has been gone for more than three years, I’m glad to be part of a musical tribute this year to single moms across the country.
I grew up, as did one of my songwriting partners, Paul Guzzone, with a mom and a dad. I was “different” from my peers in my own particular ways.
I had skipped a grade, so I was younger. I was not athletic, so I was a geek. And I was Jewish in a Southern Baptist town, with swastikas carved into my locker and taunts of “Here comes the Jew Boy! Who did you cheat today, Jew Boy?”
But I did have two committed parents, steadily part of my life. A third songwriting partner – Jake Stigers – didn’t have that equal footing when he grew up in Boise, Idaho. His mother, Margaret, raised him by herself, along with his older brother, Curtis.
The beauty of collaboration in songwriting – as the corporate clients for whom I write speeches, often cite is true in business – is how a team can produce results beyond what any individual could have done.
On my own, I would never have thought to write a song called, “Single Mom”. But Jake, Paul and I built on Jake’s true-life history and together we created a song in several versions: a first person version sung by Jake, himself … and a third person version.
Link to video with Jake singing third person lyrics
Mike Greenly Lyricist
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