M & S Rare Books
|M & S Library Number: 20104|
Wonderfully Illustrated Magnus Broadside Printing of "Dixie's Land"
(MUSIC). (DIXIE). [EMMETT, DANIEL D.]. Dixie's Land. [Caption title]. 20.4 x 12.4 cm. At head: Two fine hand-colored minstrel musicians, one seated playing the banjo, the other standing, singing. [New York, or Washington: Charles Magnus, 1860 or 1861]. Fine. Very rare. $1,750.00
Wolf, American Song Sheets, Slip Ballads and Poetical Broadsides, 1850-1870, 487a. Magnus 220. Dixie Land is a true American classic. One of the earliest printings of the song, dating circa-1861.
The composer of "Dixie," Daniel Decatur Emmett, was born in Ohio in 1815. When he was sixteen he ran away to join a traveling circus, his act being to present songs of his own composition, with banjo accompaniment, in the Spalding & Rogers and Oscar Brown circuses.
Later, with three stranded musicians, he traveled widely, singing and playing the banjo and violin. Emmett was so successful that in 1842 he and his three companions formed the Virginia Minstrels, the first black-face minstrel company in the United States. To the burnt cork, they added a combination of white trousers, striped calico shirt and blue swallowtail coat, which eventually became the trademark of all minstrels. After appearances in New York and Boston, the troupe tried their luck in England, but the English did not seem to be amused by such antics and the engagement was not a success.
Returning to New York, Emmett earned a living as a musician in brass bands, for he found that during his absence abroad many competitive minstrel troupes had sprung up and copied his performance style. In 1858 he joined the Dan Bryant Minstrels, in which he both composed and performed comic songs and plantation Negro "walk-arounds." The latter were the songs sung at the end of the show as a solo performer walked around the stage.
One Saturday night in 1859, the manager of the company stopped him after a somewhat unsuccessful performance. The attendance had been meager all week. The numbers seemed to have gone stale, and applause was unenthusiastic and feeble.
"Dan, I must have a fresh tune. Can't you compose a new walk-around, something livelyin' the git-up-and-git style? Make it lively, something the bands will play and the boys will whistle in the streets. I'll expect it on Monday morning at rehearsal."
Sunday was cold and wet, and Dan sat in the kitchen without any inspiration. When his wife Catherine came into the room, he said, "What a morning! I wish I was in Dixie."
"You show people," she said, "you keep talking about being in Dixie. What does it mean?"
"Well," he replied. "it's a common expression. When it's cold we yearn to be south of the Mason and Dixon line, or in Dixie, where the weather is fair and mild. When things aren't going well where you are, you wish you were in Dixie -- in Dixie -- in Dixie."
This was the magical moment. "Suddenly, " he later told a reporter, "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...."
Emmett sold the publication rights outright to the New York firm of Peters for the sum of five hundred dollars, all that he ever received for it. The song was issued under the title "I Wish I Was in Dixie Land."
The first performance in the Southern states appears to have been in Charleston, South Carolina, in December, 1860. But it was in New Orleans that "Dixie" was first accepted as a Southern war song. In March, 1861, after Louisiana had seceded, the theatrical troupe of Mrs. John Wood was opening in "Pocahontas" at the Varieties Theatre. At the first evening performance, as the last number, the gaudily dressed Zouaves marched onstage, led by Miss Susan Denim singing "I Wish I Was in Dixie." The audience went wild with delight, and demanded seven encores. From that evening "Dixie" was the favorite song of the Confederacy.
P. P. Werlein, a New Orleans publisher, had received a Northern copy of "Dixie." Werlein wrote to the composer to secure the Southern copyright, but with the declaration of war he decided not to wait for an answer, pirated it, and published the song in thousands of copies without any payment whatever to Emmett.
Just as "John Brown's Body" spread through the North, so from New Orleans "Dixie" spread throughout the newly formed Confederacy. The song was played at Montgomery, Alabama, when the Confederate States of America was provisionally established. At the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the permanent Confederacy, on February 22, 1862, the program was so arranged that the band led off with "Dixie." This was equivalent to its official adoption as the national song.
There are long-standing rumors that Emmett actually may have acquired "Dixie" from brothers Ben and Lew Snowden, members of a black family that moved to Mount Vernon from Virginia. Although a recent book called "Way Up North in Dixie" makes this claim, the Knox County Historical Society has checked census records and found that Ben and Lew would have been just 5 or 6 years old at the time.
Nevertheless, a local fraternal lodge put a marker on the Snowden brothers' gravesites in the 1940s that reads: "The men who taught Dan Dixie."