Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Dixie" -- Theme Song of the Confederacy, Born in NYC, Beloved by Lincoln

“Dixie” may have been the theme song of the Confederacy, but it was born in New York City. Daniel Emmet was a performer and composer with the NYC troupe, Bryant’s Minstrels, who, upon leaving the theater on a Saturday night in 1859, was asked to come up with a new “walk around” (finale) by Monday.

On the rainy Sunday that followed, Emmet couldn’t get one lyric line out of his head: “I wish I was in Dixie.” Dixie, a synonym for the south, was possibly somewhere he’d have rather been than in rainy NYC and he may have been recalling the exact line his wife had once spoken while complaining about northern weather, but what is certain is that “Dixie” soon became a massive hit with minstrel troupes in the north. It also soon found its way to the south, via two productions in two consecutive years: Charleston in 1860, and New Orleans in 1861. Then the war broke out.

As the tune became a rallying cry for the new Confederacy, it correspondingly fell out of favor in the north; no respectable Union man or woman would want to be accused – as Emmet was, eventually – of being sympathetic to the rebels living in “the land of cotton.” But a few creative northerners found a way to keep singing the catchy tune without belying a trace of Confederate sympathy (by spoofing the lyrics, Union-style). And after Lee’s surrender, President Lincoln, who loved the tune, ordered a band to play it, giving the following reason:

“I had always thought “Dixie” one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. I presumed the opinion to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. I now request the band to favor me with its performance.”

“Rousing Songs and True Tales of the Civil War” by Wayne Erbsen.

“Songs of the Civil War” by Irwin Silber.

“All the Years of American Popular Music” by David Ewen.

Lincoln quote: “Dan Emmett – The Man Who Wrote Dixie” by Wayne Erbsen.

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