Daniel Decatur Emmett (1815-1904)

Daniel Decatur Emmett
Listen to a midi-soundfile of the song.

Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton
Old times there are not forgotten
Look away, look away,
Look away Dixieland.
In Dixieland where I was born
Early on one frosty morning
Look away, look away,
Look away Dixieland.

Oh I wish I was in Dixie,
Hooray, hooray,
In Dixieland I will make my stand
To live and die in Dixie
Away, away,
Away down south in Dixie
Away, away,
Away down south in Dixie

A short history of Daniel Decatur Emmett and "Dixie"

The composer of "Dixie", Daniel Decatur Emmett, was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, on October 29, 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 strange 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 Negor "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...."

At the rehearsal the next day, Mrs. Bryant, wife of the manager, expressed her fears that the first stanza might offend the religious-minded in the audience, so it was never used, though Emmett sometimes included it in souvenir copies:

Dis worl' was made in jiss six days,
An' finished up in various ways;
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land!
Dey den made Dixie trim and nice,
But Adam called it "paradise,"
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land!
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.

C. A. Browne (revised by Willard A. Heaps), The Story of Our National Ballads, New York, NY, 1960 (originally published in 1919), pp. 124-131.

Lyrics as reprinted ibid., pp. 120-121.

I wish I was in land ob cotton,
Old times dar am not forgotten,
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.
In Dixie Land whar' I was born in,
Early on one frosty mornin',
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.

Den I wish I was in Dixie, Hoo-ray! Hoo-ray!
In Dixie land, I'll take my stand to lib and die in Dixie;
Away, away, away down south in Dixie,
Away, away, away down south in Dixie.
Old Missus marry Will-de-weaber,
Willium was a gay deceaber; Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.
But when he put his arms around 'er
He smiled as fierce as a forty-pounder,
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.

His face was sharp as a butcher's cleaber,
But dat did not seem to greab 'er;
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.
Old Missus acted the foolish part,
And died for a man dat broke her heart,
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.

Now here's a health to the next old Missus,
And all the gals dat want to kiss us;
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.
But if you want to drive 'way sorrow,
Come and hear dis song to-morrow,
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.

Dar's buckwheat cakes an' Injun batter,
Makes you fat or a little fatter;
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.
Den hoe it down and scratch your grabble,
To Dixie's land I'm bound to trabble,
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.


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