Listen to variations of DIXIE:
sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford:
Daniel Decatur Emmett (1815-1904) wrote the song Dixie while he was a member of Bryant’s Minstrels, a troupe of white musicians performing in blackface, a popular performance style (by whites) in minstrel shows in the 1850’s. They performed Dixie for the first time at Mechanics’ Hall in New York City on April 4, 1859.
Dixie tells the story of a freed black slave pining for the plantation of his birth, the lyrics written in an exaggerated version of African American vernacular, intended for comic effect. “If I had known to what use they [Southerners] were going to put the song,” Emmett later said, “I will be damned if I’d ever written it.” After the South began using the song as its anthem, Emmett and George G. Bruce wrote the fife and drum manual for the Union Army (1862). Abraham Lincoln liked the song, and had it played at the announcement of Lee’s surrender in 1865.
Emmett had joined the U.S. Army in 1828, at age 13 (lying about his age), and became an expert fifer and drummer at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. After discharge from the Army in 1835, he toured with circus bands and learned the technique of Negro impersonation, playing the banjo and singing in blackface. Between 1843 and 1869, Emmett wrote more than fifty songs. In the 1943 Paramount musical biopic titled Dixie, Emmett was portrayed by Bing Crosby.
Emmett was 82 years old in 1897 in Mount Vernon, Ohio, “a little old man with a cane,” when my grandfather, Harry Swayne Lybarger, was introduced to him by his father, Edwin L. Lybarger, a Civil War veteran. Harry was 8 years old and attending the Grand Encampment of the GAR the year Edwin was the Grand Commander of Ohio.
Additional sources: Dan Emmett and the Rise of Negro Minstrelsy, by Hans Nathan (Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1962).