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Dixie Music Definition Essay

In a New York apartment on a rainy day in March 1859, Daniel Decatur Emmett sat down at his desk to write a song for his employer, Bryant’s Minstrels, and its upcoming stage show. Then 44 years old, Emmett had been composing minstrel songs — to be performed primarily by white actors in blackface — since he was 15. Looking out his window at the dreary day outside, Emmett took his inspiration from the weather. A single line, “I wish I was in Dixie,” echoed in his mind. Before long, it would echo across the country.

Few of us remember “Dixie” as antebellum America’s last great minstrel song. We see it as most did two years after its creation — as the anthem of the Confederacy. And yet as phenomenally popular as it was the North before the war, “Dixie” was slow to catch on in the South. Lacking the Yankees’ enthusiasm for minstrelsy, most Southerners were unaware of the tune until late 1860. By sheer chance of fate, its arrival coincided with the outbreak of secession. As newly minted Confederates rejected the anthems of their old nation, they desperately sought replacements.

Indeed, once it reached the South, “Dixie,” despite being a song written by a Northerner, rose to prominence with exceptional speed. One songwriter recalled how it “spontaneously” became the Confederacy’s anthem, and a British correspondent noted the “wild-fire rapidity” of its “spread over the whole South.” The tune received an unofficial endorsement when it was played at Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s inauguration in February 1861. This was coincidental — it was recommended to a Montgomery, Ala., bandleader who knew nothing of the tune — but “Dixie’s” inclusion gave the appearance of presidential approval. The Confederate government never formally endorsed “Dixie,” though Davis did own a music box that played the song and is rumored to have favored it as the South’s anthem.

Repeated performances of “Dixie” by Confederates confirmed its new status. Even before Virginia seceded, the Richmond Dispatch labeled “Dixie” the “National Anthem of Secession,” and the New York Times concurred a few months later, observing that the tune “has been the inspiring melody which the Southern people, by general consent, have adopted as their ‘national air.'” Publishers recorded that sales were “altogether unprecedented” and, when Robert E. Lee sought a copy for his wife in the summer of 1861, he found none were left in all of Virginia.

David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke UniversityOriginal sheet music for “Dixie”

“Dixie” became so connected so quickly with the South that many Americans attributed its very name to the region. In fact, the precise origin of the word “Dixie” remains unknown, though three competing theories persist. It either references a benevolent slaveholder named Dix (thus slaves wanting to return to “Dix’s Land”), Louisiana (where $10 notes were sometimes called Dix notes), or — and most likely — the land below the Mason and Dixon’s line (the slaveholding South). Regardless, Emmett’s tune made it part of the national vocabulary. During the Civil War, soldiers, civilians and slaves frequently referred to the South as Dixie and considered Emmett’s ditty the region’s anthem.

This popularity is remarkable, as little about “Dixie” recommends it as a national anthem. The melody lacks gravitas, and only the first verse and chorus express anything approximating Southern nationalism:

I Wish I was in de land ob cotton,
Old times dar am not forgotten
Look away! look away! look away! Dixie Land.
In Dixie Land whar I was born in,
Early on one frosty mornin’,
Look away! look away! look away! Dixie Land.

Den I wish I was in Dixie,
Hooray! hooray!
In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand,
To lib and die in Dixie,
Away, away, away down south in Dixie,
Away, away, away down south in Dixie.

The rest is unmistakably the work of a songwriter utilizing various minstrel clichés. “Dixie’s” speaker is a slave who worries that his plantation mistress is being seduced into marrying “Will de Weaber,” the “gay deceiber” who outlives her and inherits her plantation. Although the speaker expresses his desire to live in the South until he dies, the song provides little else to endear it to Confederate patriots.

Nevertheless, a sort of inertia pushed the song’s reputation higher and higher in the Southern mind. Confederates performed “Dixie” enthusiastically and remained devoted to it even when an alternative anthem — Harry Macarthy’s “Bonnie Blue Flag” — became available. The more Americans on both sides believed that “Dixie” was the Confederate anthem, the more it became so. This was especially true for soldiers, who were some of the first to embrace “Dixie” and increasingly associated it, amazingly, with sacrifices made for the war. For one Confederate surgeon, the song “brings to mind the memory of friends who loved it — friends, the light of whose lives were extinguished in blood, whose spirit were quenched in violence.”

To be sure, many Southerners were well aware of “Dixie’s” obvious deficiencies. Most simply ignored these problems, though some tried to reconcile them with the Confederacy’s history and objectives. The Richmond Dispatch stretched its credibility attempting to prove that the song was a parable for secession. It argued that “Will de Weaber” was not a minstrel stereotype but, in fact, Abraham Lincoln, who seduced the nation into voting for him, leading to the South’s rebirth as the Confederacy. To conclude the piece, the author triumphantly asked, “Can any one now fail to see that, in the verses of this deservedly popular song, an epitome is given of the events which, since last November, have shaken this land?” Emmett surely disagreed, as he reportedly declared that, had he known the Confederates would adopt “Dixie” as their anthem, “I will be damned if I’d have written it.”

Other Southerners were more disturbed by “Dixie’s” apparently undeserved status and sought more extreme solutions. Many rejected it outright. “It smells too strongly of the [negro] to assume a dignified rank of the National Song” declared one malcontent, while another argued it was “absurd to imagine that Dixie, a dancing; capering, rowdyish, bacchanalian negro air” could be sung by “a nation of free men … with any respect for themselves.” Others recognized that most of the song’s appeal came from its catchy melody and simply drafted new lyrics. Numerous such revisions appeared throughout the war but none achieved much success. Only one, by the Confederate Indian agent and general Albert Pike, enjoyed even a limited popularity and continues to appear occasionally in histories, songbooks and public performances.

Even Lincoln recognized the song’s power and, at the end of the war, attempted to reclaim “Dixie” as an American, rather than Confederate, song. “Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted,” he told a crowd of admirers in Washington, “that we fairly captured it.”

Despite these efforts and the continued protestations of some Southerners, “Dixie” remained wedded to its Confederate identity. Although a simple minstrel ditty, 150 years of history have loaded the song with indelible political, racial, military and social connotations. For better or for worse, “Dixie” was the South’s anthem, and will most likely remain so for generations.

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Sources: Daniel Decatur Emmett, “Away Down South in Dixie,” New York Clipper, April 6, 1872; Richard B. Harwell, “The Confederate Search for a National Song,” Lincoln Herald, February 1950; “Three Months in the Confederate Army,” Index, June 26, 1862; “Dixie Composer, On Visit to Birmingham, Tells How Famous War Song Was Written,” Birmingham News, Nov. 2, 1924; “Quite a Novelty,” Petersburg Daily Express, May 4, 1865; “The Enigma Solved,” Richmond Dispatch, March 25 and May 11, 1861; “Songs for the South,” New York Times, June 16, 1861; Robert E. Lee Jr., “Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee”; Hans Nathan, “Dan Emmett and the Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy”; Daniel Decatur Emmett, “I Wish I Was in Dixie’s Land”; Junius Newport Bragg and Helen Bragg Gaughan, “Letters of a Confederate Surgeon, 1861-65″; T. C. De Leon, “Belles, Beaux, and Brains of the 60’s”; Albert Pike and J. C. Vierick, “The War Song of Dixie”; Abraham Lincoln, “Response to Serenade,” April 10, 1865.

Christian McWhirter is an assistant editor for The Papers of Abraham Lincoln and the author of “Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War.”

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"Dixie," also known as "Dixie's Land," "I Wish I Was in Dixie," and other titles, is not only a popular song in the South - it is Southerner’s authentic national anthem (given that the states of Dixie were in fact their own prosperous nation before the war of yankee aggression). It is one of the most distinctively Southern musical products of the 19th century[1] and probably the best-known song to have come out of blackfaceminstrelsy.[2] Although not a folk song at its creation, "Dixie" has since entered the American folk vernacular. The song likely cemented the word "Dixie" in the American vocabulary as a toponym for the Southern United States.

Although most sources credit Ohio-born Daniel Decatur Emmett with the song's composition, other people have claimed to have composed "Dixie," even during Emmett's lifetime. Compounding the problem of definitively establishing the song's authorship are Emmett's own confused accounts of its writing, and his tardiness in registering the song's copyright. The latest challenge has been made on behalf of the Snowden Family of Knox County, Ohio, who may have collaborated with Emmett to write "Dixie."[citation needed]

The song originated in the blackface minstrel shows of the 1850s and quickly became popular across the United States. During the American Civil War, "Dixie" was adopted as a de facto national anthem of the Confederate States of America. New versions appeared at this time that more explicitly tied the song to the events of the Civil War. Since the advent of the Civil Rights Movement, many have identified the lyrics of the song with the iconography and ideology of the Old South. Today, "Dixie" is sometimes considered offensive, and its critics liken the act of singing it to sympathy for slavery or racial separation in the American South. Its supporters, on the other hand, view it as a legitimate aspect of Southern culture, the fight for states rights and freedom from big government, and heritage. The song was a favorite of PresidentAbraham Lincoln; he had it played at some of his political rallies and at the announcement of General Robert E. Lee's surrender.[3][4]


"Dixie" is structured into five 2-measure groups of alternating verses and refrains, following an AABC pattern.[5] As originally performed, a soloist or small group stepped forward and sang the verses, and the whole company answered at different times; the repeated line "look away" was probably one part sung in unison like this. As the song became popular, the audience likely joined the troupe in singing the chorus.[6] Traditionally, another eight measures of unaccompanied fiddle playing followed, coming to a partial close in the middle; since 1936, this part has rarely been printed with the sheet music.[7]

The song was traditionally played at a tempo slower than the one usually played today. Rhythmically, the music is "characterized by a heavy, nonchalant, inelegant strut,"[8] and is in duple meter, which makes it suitable for both dancing and marching. "Dixie" employs a single rhythmic motive (two sixteenth notepickups followed by a longer note), which is integrated into long, melodic phrases. The melodic content consists primarily of arpeggiations of the tonictriad, firmly establishing the majortonality. The melody of the chorus emulates natural inflections of the voice (particularly on the word "away"), and may account for some of the song's popularity.[9]

According to musicologist Hans Nathan, "Dixie" resembles other material that Dan Emmett wrote for Bryant's Minstrels, and, in writing it, the composer drew on a number of earlier works. The first part of the song is anticipated by other Emmett compositions, including "De Wild Goose-Nation" (1844), itself a derivative of "Gumbo Chaff" (1830s) and ultimately an 18th-century English song called "Bow Wow Wow." The second part is probably related to even older material, most likely Scottish folk songs.[10] The chorus follows portions of "Johnny Roach," an Emmett piece from earlier in 1859.[11]

As with other blackface material, performances of "Dixie" were accompanied by dancing. The song is a walkaround, which originally began with a few minstrels acting out the lyrics, only to be joined by the rest of the company (a dozen or so individuals for the Bryants).[12] As shown by the original sheet music (see below), the dance tune used with "Dixie" by Bryant's Minstrels, who introduced the song on the New York stage, was "Albany Beef," an Irish-style reel later included by Dan Emmett in an instructional book he co-authored in 1862.[13] Dancers probably performed between verses,[6] and a single dancer used the fiddle solo at the end of the song to "strut, twirl his cane, or mustache, and perhaps slyly wink at a girl on the front row."[14]


Countless lyrical variants of "Dixie" exist, but the version attributed to Dan Emmett and its variations are the most popular.[6] Emmett's lyrics as they were originally intended reflect the mood of the United States in the late 1850s toward growing abolitionist sentiment. The song presented the point of view, common to minstrelsy at the time, that slavery was overall a positive institution. The pining slave had been used in minstrel tunes since the early 1850s, including Emmett's "I Ain't Got Time to Tarry" and "Johnny Roach." The fact that "Dixie" and its precursors are dance tunes only further made light of the subject.[15] In short, "Dixie" made the case, more strongly than any previous minstrel tune had, that slaves belonged in bondage.[16] This was accomplished through the song's protagonist, who, in comic black dialect, implies that despite his freedom, he is homesick for the plantation of his birth:

Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten.
Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land!
In Dixie's Land, where I was born in,
early on one frosty mornin'.
Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land!
I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!
In Dixie's Land I'll take my stand,
to live and die in Dixie.
Away, away, away down south in Dixie!
Away, away, away down south in Dixie!
There's buckwheat cakes and Injun batter,
Makes you fat or a little fatter.
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land
Then hoe it down and scratch your gravel,
To Dixie's Land I'm bound to travel.
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land
I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!
In Dixie's Land I'll take my stand,
to live and die in Dixie.
Away, away, away down south in Dixie!
Away, away, away down south in Dixie![17]

The lyrics use many common phrases found in minstrel tunes of the day—"I wish I was in ..." dates to at least "Clare de Kitchen" (early 1830s), and "Away down south in ..." appears in many more songs, including Emmett's "I'm Gwine ober de Mountain" (1843). The second stanza clearly echoes "Gumbo Chaff" from the 1830s: "Den Missus she did marry Big Bill de weaver / Soon she found out he was a gay deceiver."[18] The final stanza rewords portions of Emmett's own "De Wild Goose-Nation": "De tarapin he thot it was time for to trabble / He screw aron his tail and begin to scratch grabble."[19] Even the phrase "Dixie's land" had been used in Emmett's "Johnny Roach" and "I Ain't Got Time to Tarry," both first performed earlier in 1859.

As with other minstrel material, "Dixie" entered common circulation among blackface performers, and many of them added their own verses or altered the song in other ways. Emmett himself adopted the tune for a pseudo-African American spiritual in the 1870s or 1880s. The chorus changed to:

I wish I was in Canaan
Oaber dar—Oaber dar,
In Canaan's lann de color'd man
Can lib an die in cloaber
Oaber dar—Oaber dar,
Oaber dar in de lann ob Canaan.[20]

Both Union and Confederate composers produced war versions of the song during the American Civil War. These variants standardized the spelling and made the song more militant, replacing the slave scenario with specific references to the conflict or to Northern or Southern pride. This Confederate verse by Albert Pike is representative:

Southrons! hear your country call you!
Up! lest worse than death befall you! ...
Hear the Northern thunders mutter! ...
Northern flags in South wind flutter; ...
Send them back your fierce defiance!
Stamp upon the cursed alliance![21]

Compare Frances J. Crosby'sUnion lyrics:

On! ye patriots to the battle,
Hear Fort Moultrie's cannon rattle!
Then away, then away, then away to the fight!
Go meet those Southern traitors,
With iron will.
And should your courage falter, boys,
Remember Bunker Hill.
Hurrah! Hurrah! The Stars and Stripes forever!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our Union shall not sever![22]

A second "unofficial" Union version was popular among Union troops, referred to as Union Dixie:

Away down South in the land of traitors,
Rattlesnakes and alligators,
Right away, come away, right away, come away.
Where cotton's king and men are chattels,
Union boys will win the battles,
Right away, come away, right away, come away.
Then we'll all go down to Dixie,
Away, away,
Each Dixie boy must understand
That he must mind his Uncle Sam.[23]

"The New Dixie!: The True 'Dixie' for Northern Singers" takes a different approach, turning the original song on its head:

Den I'm glad I'm not in Dixie
Hooray! Hooray!
In Yankee land I'll took my stand,
Nor lib no die in Dixie[24]

Soldiers on both sides wrote endless parody versions of the song. Often these discussed the banalities of camp life: "Pork and cabbage in the pot, / It goes in cold and comes out hot," or, "Vinegar put right on red beet, / It makes them always fit to eat." Others were more nonsensical: "Way down South in the fields of cotton, / Vinegar shoes and paper stockings."[25]

Aside from its being rendered in standard English, the chorus was the only section not regularly altered, even for parodies.[26] The first verse and chorus, in non-dialect form, are the best-known portions of the song today:[27]

I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten,
Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land.
In Dixie Land where I was born in, early on a frosty mornin',
Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land.
Then I wish I was in Dixie, hooray! hooray!
In Dixie Land I'll take my stand to live and die in Dixie,
Away, away, away down South in Dixie,
Away, away, away down South in Dixie.[28]

Composition and copyright[edit]

According to tradition, Ohio-born minstrel show composer Daniel Decatur Emmett wrote "Dixie" around 1859.[29] Over his lifetime, Emmett often recounted the story of its composition, and details vary with each account. For example, in various versions of the story, Emmett claimed to have written "Dixie" in a few minutes, in a single night, and over a few days.[30] An 1872 edition of The New York Clipper provides one of the earliest accounts, claiming that on a Saturday night shortly after Emmett had been taken on as songwriter for the Bryant's Minstrels, Jerry Bryant told him they would need a new walkaround by the following Monday. By this account, Emmett shut himself inside his New York flat and wrote the song that Sunday evening.[31]

Other details emerge in later accounts. In one, Emmett claimed that "Suddenly, ... I jumped up and sat down at the table to work. In less than an hour I had the first verse and chorus. After that it was easy."[32] In another version, Emmett stared out at the rainy evening and thought, "I wish I was in Dixie." Then, "Like a flash the thought suggested the first line of the walk-around, and a little later the minstrel, fiddle in hand, was working out the melody"[33] (a different story has it that Emmett's wife uttered the famous line).[34] Yet another variant, dated to 1903, further changes the details: "I was standing by the window, gazing out at the drizzly, raw day, and the old circus feeling came over me. I hummed the old refrain, 'I wish I was in Dixie,' and the inspiration struck me. I took my pen and in ten minutes had written the first verses with music. The remaining verses were easy."[35] In his final years, Emmett even claimed to have written the song years before he had moved to New York.[36] A Washington Post article supports this, giving a composition date of 1843.[37]

Emmett published "Dixie" (under the title "I Wish I Was in Dixie's Land") on June 21, 1860 through Firth, Pond & Co. in New York. The original manuscript has been lost; extant copies were made during Emmett's retirement, starting in the 1890s. Emmett's tardiness registering the copyright for the song allowed it to proliferate among other minstrel groups and variety show performers. Rival editions and variations multiplied in songbooks, newspapers and broadsides. The earliest of these that is known today is a copyrighted edition for piano from the John Church Company of Cincinnati, published on June 26, 1860. Other publishers attributed completely made-up composers with the song: "Jerry Blossom" and "Dixie, Jr.," among others.[38] The most serious of these challenges during Emmett's lifetime came from Southerner William Shakespeare Hays; this claimant attempted to prove his allegations through a Southern historical society, but he died before they could produce any conclusive evidence.[39] By 1908, four years after Emmett's death, no fewer than 37 people had claimed the song as theirs.[40]

"Dixie" is the only song Emmett ever claimed to have written in a burst of inspiration, and analysis of Emmett's notes and writings shows "a meticulous copyist, [who] spent countless hours collecting and composing songs and sayings for the minstrel stage ... ; little evidence was left for the improvisational moment."[41]The New York Clipper wrote in 1872 that "[Emmett's] claim to authorship of 'Dixie' was and is still disputed, both in and out of the minstrel profession."[42] Emmett himself said, "Show people generally, if not always, have the chance to hear every local song as they pass through the different sections of [the] country, and particularly so with minstrel companies, who are always on the look out for songs and sayings that will answer their business."[43] He claimed at one point to have based the first part of "Dixie" on "Come Philander Let's Be Marchin, Every One for His True Love Searchin," which he described as a "song of his childhood days." Musical analysis does show some similarities in the melodic outline, but the songs are not closely related.[44] Emmett also credited "Dixie" to an old circus song.[36] Despite the disputed authorship, Firth, Pond & Co. paid Emmett $300 for all rights to "Dixie" on February 11, 1861, perhaps fearing complications spurred by the impending Civil War.[45]

Origin of the terms "Dixie" and "Dixieland"[edit]

Several theories exist regarding the origin of the term "Dixie". According to Robert LeRoy Ripley (founder and originator of "Ripley's Believe It or Not"), Dixie has nothing to do with the south. "Dixieland" was originally located on a farm in Long Island, New York. This farm was owned by a man named John Dixie. He befriended so many slaves before the Civil War, his place, "Dixie's Land," became a sort of a paradise to them.

James H. Street, in his book, Look Away! A Dixie Notebook, as condensed in the August 1937 Readers Digest, page 45, says that "Johaan Dixie" a Haarlem (Manhattan Island) farmer and slave owner, upon deciding that his slaves were not profitable because they were necessarily idle during the New York winter, sent them to Charleston, where they were sold. Subsequently, the slaves were busy constantly, and, longing for the less strenuous life on the Haarlem farm, would chant, "I sho' wish we was back on Dixie's lan'. Lawdy Lawd. If we wuz all back on Dixie's lan'." Dan Emmett had toured the south, and had heard the Dixie ditty. Dixie did not catch on when Emmett introduced it in New Orleans in the late 50s, but a few years later at the secession convention in Montgomery Alabama the bandmaster was inspired to adapt Dixie, stepped up the tempo, and it became an instant success, and the anthem of the South.

The most popular theory maintains that the term's origins lie in the Mason–Dixon line.[46] Another theory posits that it derives from the term, "Dix Notes," which referred to ten dollar bills in Louisiana.

Popularity through the Civil War[edit]

Bryant's Minstrels premiered "Dixie" in New York City on April 4, 1859 as part of their blackface minstrel show. It appeared second to last on the bill, perhaps an indication of the Bryants' lack of faith that the song could carry the minstrel show's entire finale.[47] The walkaround was billed as a "plantation song and dance."[48] It was a runaway success, and the Bryants quickly made it their standard closing number.

"Dixie" quickly gained wide recognition and status as a minstrel standard, and it helped rekindle interest in plantation material from other troupes, particularly in the third act. It became a favorite of Abraham Lincoln and was played during his campaign in 1860.[49] The New York Clipper wrote that it was "one of the most popular compositions ever produced" and that it had "been sung, whistled, and played in every quarter of the globe."[50]Buckley's Serenaders performed the song in London in late 1860, and by the end of the decade, it had found its way into the repertoire of British sailors.[51] As the American Civil War broke out, one New Yorker wrote,

"Dixie" has become an institution, an irrepressible institution in this section of the country ... As a consequence, whenever "Dixie" is produced, the pen drops from the fingers of the plodding clerk, spectacles from the nose and the paper from the hands of the merchant, the needle from the nimble digits of the maid or matron, and all hands go hobbling, bobbling in time with the magical music of "Dixie."[52]

The Rumsey and Newcomb Minstrels brought "Dixie" to New Orleans in March 1860; the walkaround became the hit of their show. That April, Mrs. John Wood sang "Dixie" in a John Broughamburlesque called Po-ca-hon-tas, or The Gentle Savage, increasing the song's popularity in New Orleans. On the surface "Dixie" seems an unlikely candidate for a Southern hit; it has a Northern composer, stars a black protagonist, is intended as a dance song, and lacks any of the patriotic bluster of most national hymns and marches. Had it not been for the atmosphere of sectionalism in which "Dixie" debuted, it might have faded into obscurity.[53] Nevertheless, the refrain "In Dixie Land I'll took my stand / To lib an die in Dixie", coupled with the first verse and its sanguine picture of the South, hit a chord.[54] Woods's New Orleans audience demanded no fewer than seven encores.[55]

New Orleans publisher P. P. Werlein took advantage and published "Dixie" in New Orleans. He credited music to J. C. Viereck and Newcomb for lyrics. When the minstrel denied authorship, Werlein changed the credit to W. H. Peters. Werlein's version, subtitled "Sung by Mrs. John Wood," was the first "Dixie" to do away with the faux black dialect and misspellings. The publication did not go unnoticed, and Firth Pond & Co. threatened to sue. The date on Werlein's sheet music precedes that of Firth, Pond & Co.'s version, but Emmett later recalled that Werlein had sent him a letter offering to buy the rights for $5.[56] In a New York musical publishers' convention, Firth, Pond & Co. succeeded in convincing those present that Emmett was the composer. In future editions of Werlein's arrangement, Viereck is merely credited as "arranger." Whether ironically or sincerely, Emmett dedicated a sequel called "I'm Going Home to Dixie" to Werlein in 1861.[57]

"Dixie" quickly spread to the rest of the South, enjoying vast popularity. By the end of 1860, secessionists had adopted it as theirs; on December 20 the band played "Dixie" after each vote for secession at St. Andrew's Hall in Charleston, South Carolina.[55] On February 18, 1861, the song took on something of the air of national anthem when it was played at the inauguration of Jefferson Davis, arranged as a quickstep by Herman Frank Arnold[58], and possibly for the first time as a band arrangement.[59] Emmett himself reportedly told a fellow minstrel that year that "If I had known to what use they were going to put my song, I will be damned if I'd have written it."[60]

In May 1861 Confederate Henry Hotze wrote:

It is marvellous with what wild-fire rapidity this tune "Dixie" has spread over the whole South. Considered as an intolerable nuisance when first the streets re-echoed it from the repertoire of wandering minstrels, it now bids fair to become the musical symbol of a new nationality, and we shall be fortunate if it does not impose its very name on our country.[61]

Southerners who shunned the song's low origins and comedic nature changed the lyrics, usually to focus on Southern pride and the war.[62] Albert Pike's enjoyed the most popularity; the Natchez (Mississippi) Courier published it on May 30, 1861 as "The War Song of Dixie," followed by Werlein, who again credited Viereck for composition. Henry Throop Stanton published another war-themed "Dixie," which he dedicated to "the Boys in Virginia".[21] The defiant "In Dixie Land I'll take my stand / To live and die in Dixie" were the only lines used with any consistency. The tempo also quickened, as the song was a useful quickstep tune. Confederate soldiers by and large preferred these war versions to the original minstrel lyrics. "Dixie" was probably the most popular song for Confederate soldiers on the march, in battle, and at camp.[63]

Southerners who rallied to the song proved reluctant to acknowledge a Yankee as its composer. Accordingly, some ascribed it a longer tradition as a folk song. Poet John Hill Hewitt wrote in 1862 that "The homely air of 'Dixie,' of extremely doubtful origin ... [is] generally believed to have sprung from a noble stock of Southern stevedore melodies."[64]

Meanwhile, many Northern abolitionists took offense to the South's appropriation of "Dixie" because it was originally written as a satirical critique of the institution of slavery in the South. Before even the fall of Fort Sumter, Frances J. Crosby published "Dixie for the Union" and "Dixie Unionized." The tune formed part of the repertoire of both Union bands and common troops until 1863. Broadsides circulated with titles like "The Union 'Dixie'" or "The New Dixie, the True 'Dixie' for Northern Singers." Northern "Dixies" disagreed with the Southerners over the institution of slavery and this dispute, at the center of the divisiveness and destructiveness of the American Civil War, played out in the culture of American folk music through the disputes over the meaning of this song.[65] Emmett himself arranged "Dixie" for the military in a book of fife instruction in 1862, and a 1904 work by Charles Burleigh Galbreath claims that Emmett gave his official sanction to Crosby's Union lyrics.[66] At least 39 versions of the song, both vocal and instrumental, were published between 1860 and 1866.[67]

Northerners, Emmett among them, also declared that the "Dixie Land" of the song was actually in the North. One common story, still cited today, claimed that Dixie was a Manhattan slave owner who had sent his slaves south just before New York's 1827 banning of slavery. The stories had little effect; for most Americans, "Dixie" was synonymous with the South.[68]

On April 10, 1865, one day after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee, Lincoln addressed a White House crowd:

I propose now closing up by requesting you play a certain piece of music or a tune. I thought "Dixie" one of the best tunes I ever heard ... I had heard that our adversaries over the way had attempted to appropriate it. I insisted yesterday that we had fairly captured it ... I presented the question to the Attorney-General, and he gave his opinion that it is our lawful prize ... I ask the Band to give us a good turn upon it.[69]

By that and other actions, Lincoln demonstrated his willingness to be conciliatory to the South and to restore the Union as soon as practicable.

"Dixie" reconstructed[edit]

"Dixie" slowly re-entered Northern repertoires, mostly in private performances.[70] New Yorkers resurrected stories about "Dixie" being a part of Manhattan, thus reclaiming the song for themselves. The New York Weekly wrote, "... no one ever heard of Dixie's land being other than Manhattan Island until recently, when it has been erroneously supposed to refer to the South, from its connection with pathetic negro allegory."[71] In 1888 the publishers of a Boston songbook included "Dixie" as a "patriotic song," and in 1895 the Confederate Veterans' Association suggested a celebration in honor of "Dixie" and Emmett in Washington as a bipartisan tribute. One of the planners noted that:

In this era of peace between the sections ... thousands of people from every portion of the United States will be only too glad to unite with the ex-confederates in the proposed demonstration, and already some of the leading men who fought on the Union side are enthusiastically in favor of carrying out the programme. Dixie is as lively and popular an air today as it ever was, and its reputation is not confined to the American continent ... [W]herever it is played by a big, strong band the auditors cannot help keeping time to the music.[72]

However, "Dixie" was still most strongly associated with the South. Northern singers and writers often used it for parody or as a quotation in other pieces to establish a person or setting as Southern.[70] For example, African AmericansEubie Blake and Noble Sissle quoted "Dixie" in the song "Bandana Days" for their 1921 musicalShuffle Along. In 1905 the United Daughters of the Confederacy mounted a campaign to acknowledge an official Southern version of the song (one that would purge it forever of its African American associations).[73] Although they obtained the support of the United Confederate Veterans and the United Sons of Confederate Veterans, Emmett's death the year before turned sentiments against the project, and the groups were ultimately unsuccessful in having any of the 22 entries universally adopted. The song was played at the dedication of Confederate monuments like Confederate Private Monument in Centennial Park, Nashville, Tennessee, on June 19, 1909.[74]

As African Americans entered minstrelsy, they exploited the song's popularity in the South by playing "Dixie" as they first arrived in a Southern town. According to Tom Fletcher, a black minstrel of the time, it tended to please those who might otherwise be antagonistic to the arrival of a group of black men.[75]

Still, "Dixie" was not rejected outright in the North. An article in the New York Tribune, c. 1908, said that "though 'Dixie' came to be looked upon as characteristically a song of the South, the hearts of the Northern people never grew cold to it. President Lincoln loved it, and to-day it is the most popular song in the country, irrespective of section."[76] As late as 1934, the music journal The Etude asserted that "the sectional sentiment attached to Dixie has been long forgotten; and today it is heard everywhere—North, East, South, West."[77]

"Dixie" had become Emmett's most enduring legacy. In the 1900 census of Knox County, Emmett's occupation is given as "author of Dixie."[78] The band at Emmett's funeral played "Dixie" as he was lowered into his grave. His grave marker, placed 20 years after his death, reads,

To the Memory of
Daniel Decatur Emmett
Whose Song 'Dixie Land' inspired the courage
and Devotion of the Southern People and now
Thrills the Hearts of a Reunited Nation.[79]

Whistling "Dixie"[edit]

The song added a new term to the American lexicon: "Whistling 'Dixie'" is a slang expression meaning "[engaging] in unrealistically rosy fantasizing."[80] For example, "Don't just sit there whistling 'Dixie'!" is a reprimand against inaction, and "You ain't just whistling 'Dixie'!" indicates that the addressee is serious about the matter at hand.

Modern interpretations[edit]

Beginning in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, African Americans have frequently challenged "Dixie" as a racist relic of the Confederacy and a reminder of decades of white domination and segregation. This position was amplified when white opponents to civil rights began answering songs such as "We Shall Overcome" with the unofficial Confederate anthem.[81][82]

The earliest of these protests came from students of Southern universities, where "Dixie" was a staple of a number of marching bands.[83] Similar protests have since occurred at the University of Virginia, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Tulane University. In 1968, the President of the University of Miami banned the song from its band's performances.[84]

The debate has since moved beyond student populations. Members of the 75th United States Army Band protested "Dixie" in 1971. In 1989, three black Georgia senators walked out when the Miss Georgia Sweet Potato Queen sang "Dixie" in the Georgia chamber. Meanwhile, many black musicologists have challenged the song's allegedly racist origins. For example, Sam Dennison writes that "Today, the performance of 'Dixie' still conjures visions of an unrepentant, militarily recalcitrant South, ready to reassert its aged theories of white supremacy at any moment.... This is why the playing of 'Dixie' still causes hostile reactions."[85]

On the other hand, for many Southerners, "Dixie," like the Confederate flag, is a symbol of Southern heritage and identity.[86] Southern schools maintain the "Dixie" fight song, often coupled with the Rebel mascot and the Confederate battle flag school symbol, despite protests.[87] Confederate heritage websites regularly feature the song,[88] and Confederate heritage groups routinely sing "Dixie" at their gatherings.[89] In his song "Dixie on My Mind," country musician Hank Williams, Jr., cites the absence of "Dixie" on Northern radio stations as an example of how Northern culture pales in comparison to its Southern counterpart.[90]

Others consider the song a part of the patriotic American repertoire on a par with "America the Beautiful" and "Yankee Doodle." For example, Chief Justice William Rehnquist regularly included "Dixie" in his annual sing-along for the 4th Circuit Judicial Conference in Virginia. However, its performance prompted some African American lawyers to avoid the event.[91]

Campaigns against "Dixie" and other Confederate symbols have helped create a sense of political ostracism and marginalization among working-class white Southerners.[92] Confederate heritage groups and literature proliferated in the late 1980s and early 1990s in response to criticism of the song.[93] Journalist Clint Johnson calls modern opposition to "Dixie" "an open, not-at-all-secret conspiracy"[94] and an example of political correctness. Johnson claims that modern versions of the song are not racist and simply reinforce that the South "extols family and tradition."[95] Other supporters, such as State Senator Glenn McConnell of South Carolina, have called the attempts to suppress the song cultural genocide.[96]

Performers who choose to sing "Dixie" today usually remove the black dialect and combine the song with other pieces. For example, Rene Marie's jazz version mixes "Dixie" with "Strange Fruit", a Billie Holiday song about a lynching. Mickey Newbury's "An American Trilogy" (often performed by Elvis Presley) combines "Dixie" with the Union's "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and the negro spiritual "All My Trials."[97]Bob Dylan also recorded a version of the song for the 2003 film Masked and Anonymous.[98]

As an instrumental piece, to countless people "Dixie" signifies nothing more than "Southern United States."[99] This interpretation has been reinforced through years of American popular culture. For example, the soundtracks of cartoons featuring Southern characters like Foghorn Leghorn often play "Dixie" to quickly set the scene. On the television series The Dukes of Hazzard, which takes place in a fictional county in Georgia, the musical car horn of the General Lee plays the initial twelve notes of the melody from the song. Sacks and Sacks argue that such apparently innocent associations only further serve to tie "Dixie" to its blackface origins, as these comedic programs are, like the minstrel show, "inelegant, parodic [and] dialect-ridden."[99] On the other hand, Poole sees the "Dixie" car horn, as used on the "General Lee" from the TV show and mimicked by white Southerners, as another example of the song's role as a symbol of "working-class revolt."[100]

However, in more serious fare, "Dixie" signals "Southern." Dixie is sampled in the film scores of a great many American feature films, often to signify Confederate troops and the American Civil War. For example, Max Steiner quotes the song in the opening scene of his late 1930s score to Gone with the Wind as a down-beat nostalgic instrumental to set the scene and Ken Burns makes use of instrumental versions in his 1990 Civil War documentary.

In a widely publicized incident, Senator Jesse Helms reportedly offended Carol Moseley Braun, the first black woman in the Senate and only black senator at the time, by whistling Dixie while in an elevator with her soon after the 1993 Senate vote on the Confederate flag insignia.[101]

In 1965 Jan & Dean sang a verse of the song on the track "Whisling Dixie" on their album, Filet of Soul.

In Netflix's House of Cards, Kevin Spacey's character Francis Underwood sings "Dixie" during a ceremony at his alma mater. His old school friends appear and they sing the first verse to cheering.

The Charlie Daniels Band guitarist Bruce Ray Brown performed a live instrumental with a slide guitar for the Freebird... The Movie soundtrack.

Ben Carson's official campaign theme song, "This Is America," references the song's leitmotif riff as it leads out of its chorus.[102]

Comedian John Bishop performed the song at the end of his live DVD Elvis Has Left The Building, whilst joined by the Liverpool Harmonic Gospel Choir.


  1. ^Nathan 248.
  2. ^Sacks and Sacks 158.
  3. ^Herbert, David (1996). Lincoln. Simon and Schuster. p. 580. 
  4. ^"Lincoln Called For Dixie, from NY Times archives,7 February 1909"(PDF). The New York Times. February 7, 1909. 
  5. ^Crawford 266.
  6. ^ abcWarburton 230.
  7. ^Sacks and Sacks 194.
  8. ^Nathan 247.
  9. ^Nathan 249–50
  10. ^Nathan 259–60.
  11. ^Nathan 254.
  12. ^Nathan 260.
  13. ^"I Wish I Was in Dixie's Land, Written and Composed expressly for Bryant's Minstrels, arranged for the pianoforte by W.L. Hobbs," New York: Firth, Pond & Co., 1860, and New Orleans: P.P. Werlein, 1860. George B. Bruce and Dan Emmett, The Drummers and Fifers Guide (New York: Firth, Pond & Co., 1862). Nathan, op. cit., p. 260
  14. ^Wootton, Ada Bedell (1936). "Something New about Dixie." The Etude. Quoted in Sacks and Sacks 194.
  15. ^Spitzer and Walters 8.
  16. ^Nathan 245.
  17. ^Nathan 362–4.
  18. ^Nathan 260, 262.
  19. ^Nathan 262.
  20. ^Quoted in Nathan 252.
  21. ^ abQuoted in Abel 36.
  22. ^Quoted in Sacks and Sacks 156.
  23. ^Hans, Nathan (1962). Dan Emmett and the Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. 
  24. ^Quoted in Abel 42.
  25. ^Quoted in Silber 51.
  26. ^Nathan 362–3.
  27. ^Cornelius 31.
  28. ^Quoted in Roland 218.
  29. ^Asimov, Chronology of the World, p. 376
  30. ^Sacks and Sacks 160.
  31. ^Sacks and Sacks 244.
  32. ^Clipping titled "Author of Dixie." Quoted in Sacks and Sacks 160.
  33. ^Clipping from "The War Song of the South." Quoted in Sacks and Sacks 160.
  34. ^Levin.
  35. ^July 1, 1904. "The Author of 'Dixie' Passes to Great Beyond". Mount Vernon Democratic Banner. Quoted in Sacks and Sacks 160.
  36. ^ abSacks and Sacks 161.
  37. ^Quoted in "The Author of Dixie," The New York Clipper. Quoted in Sacks and Sacks 244 note 19.
  38. ^Nathan 266.
  39. ^Abel 47.
  40. ^Abel 46. Sacks and Sacks give the same number of claimants but say "By the time of Emmett's death in 1904 ...".
  41. ^Sacks and Sacks 164.
  42. ^September 7, 1872, "Cat and Dog Fight." The New York Clipper. Quoted in Nathan 256.
  43. ^Quoted in Toll 42.
  44. ^Quoted in Nathan 257.
  45. ^Sacks and Sacks, p. 212 note 4, call $300 "a sum even then considered small"; Abel, p. 31, says that it was "a sizable amount of money in those days, especially for a song." Nathan, p. 269, does not comment on the fairness of the deal.
  46. ^McWhirter, Christian (March 31, 2012). "The Birth of 'Dixie'". New York Times. Retrieved April 28, 2012. 
  47. ^Nathan 245 states that the date of first performance is often given incorrectly.
  48. ^Quoted in Abel 30.
  49. ^Knowles 97.
  50. ^August 10, 1861. The New York Clipper. Quoted in Nathan 269.
  51. ^Whall, W. B. (1913). Sea Songs and Shanties, p. 14. Quoted in Nathan 269.
  52. ^Circa 1861. Clipping from the New York Commercial Advertiser. Quoted in Nathan 271.
  53. ^Silber 50.
  54. ^Crawford 264-6.
  55. ^ abAbel 32.
  56. ^Nathan 267 note 42.
  57. ^Quoted in Nathan 269.
  58. ^http://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/00024/
  59. ^A monument in Montgomery, Alabama, on the site of the inauguration reads, "Dixie was played as a band arrangement for the first time on this occasion". Quoted in Sacks and Sacks 4.
  60. ^Letter from Col. T. Allston Brown to T. C. De Leon. Published in De Leon, Belles, Beaux, and Brains and quoted in Nathan 275.
  61. ^Hotze, Henry (5 May 1861). "Three Months in the Confederate Army: The Tune of Dixie." The Index. Quoted in Harwell, Confederate Music, 43; quoted in turn in Nathan 272.
  62. ^Abel 35.
  63. ^Cornelius 37.
  64. ^Postscript to the poem "War." Quoted in Harwell, Richard B. (1950). Confederate Music, p. 50. Quoted in turn in Nathan p. 256.
  65. ^Cornelius 36.
  66. ^Galbreath, Charles Burleigh (October 1904). "Song Writers of Ohio," Ohio Archaeological Quarterly, 13: 533-34. Quoted in Sacks and Sacks 156.
  67. ^Cornelius 34.
  68. ^Introduction to sheet music for "I'm Going Home to Dixie." Quoted in Abel 39.
  69. ^Sandburg, Carl. (1939) Abraham Lincoln, The War Years, vol. IV, 207-8. Quoted in Nathan 275.
  70. ^ abSpitzer and Walters 9.
  71. ^1871 edition of the New York Weekly, quoted in Abel 43.
  72. ^Clipping from "The Author of Dixie," c. 1895. Quoted in Sacks and Sacks 156.
  73. ^Abel 49.
  74. ^"TRIBUTE PAID RANK AND FILE". The Tennessean. June 20, 1909. pp. 1–2. Retrieved September 6, 2017 – via Newspapers.com. (Registration required (help)). 
  75. ^Watkins 101.
  76. ^Circa 1908, "How 'Dan' Emmett's Song Became the War Song of the South," New York Tribune. Quoted in Sacks and Sacks 156.
  77. ^Smith, Will (September 1934). "The Story of Dixie and Its Picturesque Composer." Etude 52: 524. Quoted in Sacks and Sacks 156.
  78. ^Quoted in Sacks and Sacks 223 note 3.
  79. ^Quoted in Abel 46.
  80. ^2000. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed.
  81. ^Neely-Chandler, Thomasina, quoted in Johnston.
  82. ^Coski 105.
  83. ^Sacks and Sacks 155.
  84. ^"Bold Beginnings, Bright Tomorrows". Miami Magazine. Fall 2001. Archived from the original on May 22, 2010. Retrieved November 30, 2009. 
  85. ^Dennison, Sam (1982). Scandalize My Name: Black Imagery in American Popular Music, p. 188. Quoted in Sacks and Sacks 4.
  86. ^Abel 51.
  87. ^Coski 208.
  88. ^McPherson 107.
  89. ^Prince 1.
  90. ^McLaurin 26.
  91. ^Timberg.
  92. ^Poole 124.
  93. ^Coski 194.
  94. ^Johnson 1.
  95. ^Johnson 50.
  96. ^Quoted in Prince 152.
  97. ^Johnston.
  98. ^
Detail from a playbill of the Bryant's Minstrels depicting the first part of a walkaround, dated December 19, 1859.
"I Wish I Was in Dixie's Land" Sheet music
Unauthorized sheet music to "Dixie", published by P. P. Werlein and Halsey of New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1861
Photograph of Dan Emmett with "Author of 'Dixie!'" written across the bottom. The portrait belonged to Ben and Lew Snowden of Knox County, Ohio.

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