Dixie's Land

Daniel Decatur Emmett, 1859

Who is supposedly singing this song? How do you know? Does the composer belong to that culture? 

How does the composer portray African Americans in this song?

What is a stereotype? How does the dialect used in this song promote stereotypes of African Americans?

Do you think the song represents opinions that many African Americans shared?

Compare this song to music by African Americans from this period, such as “No More Auction Block for Me” and “Deep River.” How are the music and lyrics different? How are the messages of the songs different?

Despite being by a northerner, why do you think the song was so appealing among the secessionists?

Why do you think the song has remained popular? How have modern versions of “Dixie” adapted to the times?

Recently some bands have dropped associations with the Old South from their names. For example, the Dixie Chicks changed their name to the Chicks. Why do you think they did this?


"Dixie" performed by Alan Baker on Songs of the Civil War, New World Records [NW202], © 1987. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

This recording is by Alan Baker, a well known folk singer, who sings this song as it would have been performed at a minstrel show and retains the dialect that appears in the original text. While the first verse has been interpreted as a regional anthem, the remaining verses are clearly intended to entertain and the last verse even suggests to the audience that they return for more shows.

View the lyics for "Dixie's Land."

View the published score.

Dan Emmett in blackface

Carte de visite of Dan Emmett in blackface, probably from the early 1860s.

Dan Emmett was born in 1815 in Mount Vernon, Ohio, where he died in 1904. A self-taught fiddle player, he began composing at an early age. “Old Dan Tucker” was first performed when he was fifteen. Emmett joined the army at seventeen as a fifer and drummer, but was released when they discovered he was underage. He subsequently began traveling with circus companies, developing his talent for banjo playing, composing minstrel songs and performing them in blackface and offensive dialect. In 1843 Emmett organized the Virginia Minstrels, a minstrel troupe of four musicians who performed denigrating impersonations of African Americans, playing banjo, bones, violin, and tambourine.

Emmett wrote “Dixie’s Land” while performing with Bryant’s Minstrels. It was originally composed as a “walk-around,” a concluding number for a minstrel show. It became extremely popular with both armies at the outbreak of the Civil War. However, it became a rallying cry for the South and has since retained its popularity as an unofficial anthem of the states that seceded from the Union. Emmett, a Union supporter, wrote another version entitled “Dixie for the Union,” but the song never shed its southern identification. The term Dixie was probably derived from the Mason-Dixon Line.

dialect: A manner of speech peculiar to a particular class, race, or region.

stereotype: A preconceived and oversimplified idea of the characteristics which typify a person.

 

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