How ‘Dixie’ came to be written.
Dixie, the most popular song of the South
during the Civil War
, was written by a Northern man, Daniel Decatur Emmett
, who was born at Mount Vernon, Ohio
, in 1815.
began life as a printer, but soon afterward gave up type-setting to join a band of musicians connected with a circus company.
He discovered that he had a talent for conposing songs used by clowns and he reeled them off in numbers, and with much success.
‘Old Dan Tucker
’ made a great hit. Emmett
became so popular that he concluded to try New York City, at the Old Gotham Theatre
His performances, with the help of two companions, were of a mixed negro song and dance kind, and the little company was billed as ‘The Virginia Minstrels.’
They took the New York crowd by storm, and the result was the negro minstrel shows which have ever since had so great a run.
The company went abroad and had great success in England
Even royalty became enthusiastic, and the present King
, who was then in his teens, thought ‘Dan
one of the most interesting Americans
It was several years before Emmett
returned, and then he joined the Dan Bryant Minstrel Company
It was during this engagement that he wrote Dixie.
Years afterwards, when he was an old man living in retirement at Mount Vernon
, he told his story to a newspaper reporter.
The story follows:
“Are you Dan Emmett
, who wrote Dixie?”
asked the reporter.
“Well, I have heard of the fellow; sit down,” and Emmett
motioned to the steps.
‘Won't you tell me how the song was written?’
“Like most everything else I ever did,” said Emmett
It was written because it had to be done.
One Saturday night, in 1859, as I was leaving Bryant's Theatre, where I was playing, Bryant called after me, ‘I want a walk-around for Monday, Dan.’
next day it rained and I stayed indoors.
At first when I went at the song I couldn't get anything.
But a line.
I wish I was in Dixie kept repeating itself in my mind, and I finally took it for my start.
The rest wasn't long in coming.
And that's the story of how Dixie was written.
It made a hit at once, and before the end of the week everybody in New York was whistling it. Then the South took it up and claimed it for its own. I sold the copyright for five hundred dollars, which was all I ever made from it. I'll show you my first copy.
He went into the house and returned in a moment with a yellow, worn-looking manuscript in his hand.
“That's Dixie,” he said, holding it up for inspection.
‘I'm going to give it to some historical society in the South
, one of these days, for though I was born here in Ohio
, I count myself a Southerner, as my father was a Virginian.’
It was at New Orleans that Dixie got its great start as a war song.
In 1861, just after the breaking out of the Civil War
, an actress sang it at one of the New Orleans theatres.
It was received with a storm of applause, and at once passed to the street, and then to the camp.
It flew over the South
on wings, and is now a universal favorite.
died in 1904, at Mount Vernon
The song has been changed and paraphrased many times.
The most elaborate attempt of this kind was made by General Albert Pike
, of Confederate fame, who tried to give it more dignity.
But his attempt did not prove successful.
The public preferred Dan Emmett
's doggerel and the tune, which he had adapted from an old ‘Coon Song.’—The Advance