Washington D.C. is unique in the United States, as it isn’t actually a state, it’s rather a district. Relatively small but the center of the federal government in the country, the US capital is a representation of the country as a whole, with people living there from across the nation. This can show both the positive and negative things about America that many people may or may not know about. In this article, we’ll take a look at the 25 best songs that talk about Washington D.C. to get a better picture of the United States as a whole.
1. The Bourgeois Blues – Lead Belly
The Bourgeois Blues is a song that almost feels like Lead Belly venting his frustrations about the social state of the country. While it specifically mentions the racial discrimination he and his wife faced in Washington D.C., he talks about the way they’re treated everywhere they go. It doesn’t paint the city in a good light at all, with him even going so far as telling Black listeners to never look at moving to the city because it’s home to uppity government folks and not them.
2. Welcome to DC – Mambo Sauce
Mambo Sauce dropped one of the best songs about Washington D.C. when they released Welcome To D.C. The 2007 track is a come-up track about the capital that tells everyone that they should be getting more credit for the music artists the city has produced. Inspired by big names like Chuck Brown, Rare Essence, and Back Yard, the song includes plenty of nostalgic references that only natives will understand in a city going through incredible amounts of gentrification.
3. Chocolate City – Parliament
Parliament was largely responsible for popularizing the capital’s nickname of Chocolate City through this influential song. The term “Chocolate City” referred to any city that had a population the majority of which was Black in the United States. Their track Chocolate City mentions several such cities across the country, including places like Gary, Indiana, and Washington, D.C. In it, they refer to D.C. as “CC,” the capital Chocolate City of them all.
4. The District Sleeps Alone Tonight – The Postal Service
The District Sleep Alone Tonight is the biggest hit from The Postal Service and makes Washington D.C. the setting for heartbreak. A visitor to the city, the narrator of the song finds himself alone and isolated in the capital. Unfortunately, there is no happy ending for the man, as he eventually leaves without fulfilling his desires in Washington D.C.
5. But Anyway – Tarica June
Gentrification is a huge issue in major cities, but Tarica June takes it in full force. A critic of the way D.C. is being managed and how things keep changing despite the reluctance of the people who live there, the song lays out that economic development is not always the right answer.
6. D.C. City – Roy Ayers
Roy Ayers released D.C. City on his 1983 album Drive. It was a song built on ideals, calling for unity not just in Washington D.C. but across the country. The main focal point of the track was that living in harmony and working together made life better for everyone, using the capital as the place that should be setting the example for everyone else. It’s a powerful song, especially in a place as divided by politics as the nation’s capital.
7. The Washington Post March – John Philip Sousa
John Philip Sousa was born in Washington D.C. and conducted the U.S. Marine Band from 1880 through 1892. He later led his own group for over 40 years, composing some of the most notable marching songs in the history of this great nation. In 1889, he was commissioned a march for the winner of an essay contest, which ended up with him producing The Washington Post March. This became one of the most recognizable melodies around the world.
8. DC Or Nothing – Wale
Wale is a Washington D.C. native and has written plenty of songs about the capital in his career. Among the best was DC Or Nothing, an anthem of everything the city had to offer people living there and a look at Washington D.C. through the artist’s eyes. It takes on plenty of issues though, from starvation to murder, and even delves into more sensitive topics like diseases and gentrification.
While that sounds dark, the track puts a big focus on the ability of people to find their way through those negative things and find the right path in life, just like the singer himself did.
9. Washington D.C. – Gil Scott-Heron
Gil Scott-Heron released Washington D.C. on his album Moving Target. He’s often seen as one of the pioneers of the rap genre, becoming a major influence as a poet and musician in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a Washington D.C. resident in the 1970s and was a firsthand witness to the poverty of the people living there and the politics that divided people every day.
He wrote down the things he saw there, from the traits of the community to the crime he saw on an everyday basis, ultimately compiling them into this song. The capital might not be all it’s cracked up to be, but most people never see that side of the District.
10. Rock Creek Park – The Blackbyrds
The Blakcbyrds were an R&B group that formed in Washington D.C. during the 1970s. Rock Creek Park became their signature song and cemented them as one of the most influential groups in the local area, though it was never meant as a serious track. Inspired by a park that they spent a lot of time in, it was a fun repetitive song that was basically just a jam by them but ended up becoming a hit.
11. Washington D.C. Hospital Center Blues – Skip James
Washington DC Hospital Center Blues was recorded by Skip James in the 1960s. It talks about a poor man who finds himself in a hospital in the nation’s capital. Despite his not having the financial ability to afford his care, the hospital doesn’t care and continues to treat him.
Unfortunately, not all are happy. A lady he meets there and is interested in disregards him as soon as she finds out he is poor, demonstrating the different ways people react to those going through hardships and serving up a heaping helping of the blues genre in the process.
12. Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln – PJ Harvey
Several songs on PJ Harvey’s album The Hope Six Demolition Project were inspired by the city of Washington D.C., but it was Near The Memorials To Vietnam And Lincoln that was the best and most positive. It’s a scene set through the perspective of the singer as she people-watched and visited the memorials in the city, spending time taking in the sights and enjoying herself.
13. D.C. Is Tropical – Lionize
D.C. Is Tropical was released on Lionize’s album Destruction Manual. The song mainly focuses on the awful weather the Washington D.C. area always seems to go through, calling it a tropical place because of how much rain falls on the city nonstop. Despite being fair to the north of the country, the capital is hot and humid for big chunks of the year, which is described by them as being “too hot to move.”
14. Washington, D.C. – The Magnetic Fields
The Magnetic Fields released Washington, D.C. on their 1999 album 69 Love Songs, and it was one of the happiest tracks on the record. It talks about several big tourist attractions in Washington like cherry blossoms and The Mall but plays them down in favor of the real reason the narrator comes to the city. Of course, it’s his lover who resides there.
15. Embassy Row – Pavement
Pavement released Embassy Row in 1997 as part of their album Brighten The Corners. Embassy Row is a place in Washington D.C. where most of the embassies and diplomatic residences are found in the city. The song focuses on the politics surrounding the area and where it’s located in the capital. Political schemes, corruption, and foreign scandals are all topics of conversation in this track, making it one of the most intriguing entries to our list of the best songs about Washington D.C.
16. Banned in D.C. – Bad Brains
Washington D.C. is known for its hardcore underground scene, with plenty of great options to choose from if that happens to be your style. One of the best and most aggressive bands has to be Bad Brains, who at one point were so rambunctious that they got into trouble with local club owners. In response, they penned the song Banned In D.C., capturing the chaos and insanity that followed them throughout their careers.
17. Still Doing It – Oddisee Feat. yU of Diamond District
Our earlier entry, Rock Creek Park, eventually became one of the most sampled songs of all time that talks about Washington D.C. Oddisse was one of the artists who used parts of it for a track, producing Still Doing It in the process. The song is about everyday life in the city and has a nostalgic quality about it that will have non-residents yearning for the capital. It’s nothing complicated, just a track about a dude riding his bike on a summer day, but it brings up memories and feelings in even the most stoic listener.
18. Morning In Hyattsville – Rahim AlHaj
Rahim AlHaj has a unique story, being born in Baghdad and becoming a political refugee who fled Iraq in 1991 after becoming an activist fighting against Saddam Hussein. He eventually settled in New Mexico and started a music career, but his recording sessions in Hyattsville, a part of the Washington D.C. area, left an indelible mark on the artist. It inspired the song Morning In Hyattsville, an entry to his Little Earth album in 2010.
19. White House Blues – Bill Monroe
White House Blues is an old blues song that discusses the death of President William McKinley. It talks about the void being filled by President Theodore Roosevelt after he’s gone, and it appears he won’t be coming back anytime soon.
20. President’s Song – The Simpsons
President’s Song or The Mediocre Presidents is a skit that appeared on The Simpsons during a school play. It mainly talks about the presidents who held office that nobody remembers, because they did very little of note during their time in power both in positive and negative lights.
21. Arlington: The Rap – Remy Munasifi
There’s no shortage of songs making fun of the Washington D.C. area and the bigwig politicians that spend most of their time there, but few do it with as much class and hilarity as Remy Mustafi. Arlington: The Rap is a hilarious track that’s packed with musical mockery about the District and the people who live there, making even residents who may be offended laugh with some of the great lines in the song.
22. Ghost of Old DC – J.B. Beverley & the Wayward Drifters
Ghost Of Old D.C. can be found on J.B. Beverly’s album Dark Bar And A Jukebox. It’s mainly centered on a ghost train that haunts the Washington D.C. area and is a fun listen.
23. You’re My Miss Washington, D.C. – The Nation of Ulysses
You’re My Miss Washington D.C. is about a man who falls in love with a woman from the nation’s capital. He’s so enthralled by her beauty that he crowns her his Miss Washington D.C. just like any other state would crown a “Miss (state)” for a beauty pageant.
24. Wind Me Up! – Chuck Brown
Chuck Brown was a Washington D.C. native who loved singing about his hometown. Wind Me Up! is probably his most famous song, coming out in 1975 as a single from his album We’re About The Business. It was a number-one hit on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts and made it to number five on the Hot 100.
25. Christmas Eve in Washington – Maura Sullivan
Christmas Eve In Washington is a song that was originally performed on the radio as a charity song for the Children’s National Hospital. It mentions several features of the Washington D.C. area, from the nearby mountain ranges to the United States Capitol Dome.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.