DESCRIPTION: "I wish I was in the land of cotton...." A blackface-dialect song praising southern life and the conditions the slaves endured. Such plot as it has revolves around Old Missus, who married Will the Weaver, a "gay deceiver"
AUTHOR: Daniel Decatur Emmett
EARLIEST DATE: 1860 (see notes)
KEYWORDS: courting patriotic nonballad
FOUND IN: US(So)
REFERENCES (18 citations):
Lomax-ABFS, pp. 531-533, "Dixie" (1 text plus one extra verse, 1 tune)
RJackson-19CPop, pp. 61-64, "Dixie's Land" (1 text, 1 tune)
Arnett, p. 76-77, "Dixie" (1 text, 1 tune)
Botkin-SoFolklr, p. 713, "Dixie" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hugill, pp. 424-425, "Dixie" (2 texts, 1 tune -- text given has the standard Dixie chorus but bawdy & nonsensical lyrics)
Hill-CivWar, p. 221, "Dixie" (1 text); also two adaptions: pp. 198-199, "Dixie" (1 text, by Albert Pike; for other versions see the Same Tune field); p. 222, "Dixie" (1 text, a Union version by John Savage)
Krythe 6, pp. 100-112, "Dixie" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-CivWarFull, pp. 59-61, "Dixie's Land" (1 text, 1 tune); also p. 62, "Dixie" (the Pike adaption) (1 text); p. 63 "The Officers of Dixie" (1 text); p. 64, "Union Dixie" (1 text)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #487, p. 32, "Dixie's Land" (3 references)
Silber-FSWB, p. 45, "Dixie" (1 text)
Gilbert, pp. 13-16, "(Dixie)" (several fragmentary sets of later words plus a description of the dance)
Emerson, pp. 36-37, "I Wish I Was in Dixie's Land" (1 text)
Newell, #157, "Dixie's Land" (1 text, adapted to be used as a children's game)
Fireside, p. 192, "Dixie" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fuld-WFM, pp. 196-199+, "Dixie"
ADDITIONAL: Fred W. Allsopp, Folklore of Romantic Arkansas, Volume II (1931), pp. 163-164, "(Dixie)" (1 text plus extensive notes on pp. 164-166); also the Pike adaption on pp. 225-226
Harry Dichter and Elliott Shapiro, _Early American Sheet Music: Its Lure and Its Lore, 1768-1889_, R. R. Bowker, 1941, plate 26, shows the original sheet music cover
ST LxA531 (Full)
[Arthur] Harlan & [Frank] Stanley "Dixie" (Columbia A-696, 1909)
Earl Johnson & his Dixie Entertainers, "Dixie" (OKeh 45129, 1927)
Kessinger Brothers, "Dixie" (Brunswick 518, c. 1931)
Peerless Quartet, "Dixie" (Superior [Pathe] 1, 1922)
Red Mountain Trio, "Dixie" (Columbia 15369-D, 1929; rec. 1928)
[Frank] Stanley & [Henry] Burr, "Dixie" (Columbia A696, 1909)
Gid Tanner & his Skillet Lickers, "Dixie" (Columbia 15158-D, 1927)
cf. "The Woodpecker's Hole" (tune)
cf. "A Horse Name Bill" (tune)
cf. "Crazy Song to the Air of 'Dixie'" (tune)
Crazy Song to the Air of "Dixie" (File: San342)
A Horse Named Bill (File: San340)
Albert Pike's "Dixie" ("Southrons, hear your country call you!") (Hill-CivWar, pp. 198-199, "Dixie"; [W. M. Wharton,] War Songs and Poems of the Southern Confederacy, pp. 29-30; Fred W. Allsopp, Folklore of Romantic Arkansas, Volume II (1931), pp. 225-226; Silber-CivWarFull, p. 62; Lawrence, p. 353; WolfAmericanSongSheets, p. 190)
Ernest V. Stoneman, "Dixie Parody" (OKeh 40430, 1925)
The Officers of Dixie (Silber-CivWarFull, p. 63)
Union Dixie (Silber-CivWarFull, p. 64)
Dis-Union Dixie Land/The New Dixie ("I'm glad I'm not in de land ob cotton") (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 32)
"Dixie" Union-ized ("O! I'm glad I live in a land of freedom") (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 32)
Dixie's Land #4 ("I wish I was in Baltimore"); Dixie's Land #5 ("Come, Patriots all who hate oppression) (both listed on WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 33)
Our Yankee Generals ("We are all for the Constitution") (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 122)
At Chicago they selected Lincoln, who will be elected (Lawrence, p. 345)
I WIsh I Was in Dixie Corrected Edition! ("Come along, boys, come out in the fields") (Lawrence, p. 352)
Dixie for the Union ("Oh! ye patriots to the battle, Hear Fort Moultrie's cannon rattle") (Lawrence, p. 353)
Dixie's Land ("I wish I was in de land of cotton, 'Cimmon seed 'an sandy bottom") (Lawrence, p. 353)
Stars & Stripes ("Arise! ye brace and how your hand") (WolfAmericanSongSheets pp. 151-152)
We'll Vote for Hayes and Wheeler ("In the land of corn and the land of cotton, Democrats are rife and rotten") (Lawrence, p. 460)
The Traitor's Land ("Away down south in the land of traitors") (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 159)
Uncle Sam and Betsy ("Our country' cause is in a fix") (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 161)
Union Song. Bell and Everett Campaign Song ("The wide-awakes they like to bluster") (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 163)
We're Marching down to Dixie's Land ("Good news, good news, from Dixie's Land") (WolfAmericanSongSheets, p. 172)
Wide-Awakes, The Irrepressible's Campaign Song ("We'll give you now oiur campaign song," by John W. Dawson) (WolfAmericanSongSheets, p. 178)
Awake in Dixie ("Hear ye not the sound of battle," by H[enry] T[hompson] S[tanton] Winchester) (WolfAmericanSongSheets, p. 186)
The Song of the Exile ("Oh, here I am in the land of cotton") (WolfAmericanSongSheets, p. 194)
NOTES: Although forever to be associated with the Confederate states, "Dixie" was a favorite of President Lincoln, and was often played by Union bands during the war. It could literally be regarded as having been "stolen" by the south; the first certain publication of the piece was by a New Orleans firm in 1860, but Emmett was neither credited nor consulted -- nor, apparently, paid. (The piece was registered in 1859, but no copies of the relevant printing -- if there was one -- have survived. Gilbert reports that Emmett's total lifetime payment for the song was the $300 he received for the copyright.)
The origin of the term "Dixie" is uncertain, but it is believed to be associated with the Mason-Dixon line. - RBW
It should also be noted that Dan Emmett was an abolitionist. -PJS
And, of course, a Northerner. He even produced a "northern" set of lyrics, though neither they nor any of the other "northern" texts took hold. Publication data for "Northern" editions can be found in Dichter/Shapiro, p. 107.
It is interesting to see the notes on the publication of this song in Dichter/Shapiro, pp. 105-106. There were at least three 1860 editions, two northern ones published by Firth, Pond & Co. of New York and a southern one by P. P. Werlein of New Orleans. The northern editions give the first line as "I wish I was in de land of cotton." The southern edition cleans up the dialect: "I wish I was in the land of cotton."
Dichter/Shapiro note on p. 106, "The front covers of the two pirated or unauthorized editions [i.e. those by Werlein] credit two different authors, and do not mention Dan Emmett.... The story is that Emmett sent the words and music down to New Orleans to Billy Newcomb, the minstrel, and somehow or other a copy of the manuscript fell into the hands of Werlein, who published it, believing that it was no-one's property." They suggest that the first publication of "Dixie" was a broadside, which we might suspect was printed in 1859.
There were also southern rewrites (Dichter/Shapiro, p. 108); the earliest of these, from 1860, begins "Oh Dixie am de paridise" (sic.).
Abel, devotes a whole chapter (chapter 2, pp. 27-51) to "Dixie" and data about its history. He affirms on p. 31 the report that Emmett sold all rights to Firth and Pond in 1860 for $300. There were many disputes about authorship thereafter (continuing well into the twentieth century), but Emmett's claim was upheld in all the cases that mattered. Few of the others who claimed authorship were in any way noteworthy, but one was that other great nineteenth century composer, Will S. Hays.
Finson, p. 195, says that DIxie "gathers many threads from the preceding three decades of blackface. In 1858 Emmett left White's Serenaders to join Bryant's Minstels. He wrote a good deal for this company established by three brothers, Dan, Jerry, and Neil, who also did immigrant impersonations, especially of Irishment. 'Old K. Y. Ky.,' "Dar's a Darkey in de Tent,' 'Billy Patterson,' 'Jack on the Green,' and 'Darrow-Arrow' all came from Emmett's last flowering as a songwriter, and issued during the 1860s from the presses of Firth, Pond and Company."
The idea for the song supposedly came to Emmett one day in 1859. He was supposed to write a song, but nothing came to him. On a gloomy day, he muttered to himself, "I wish I was in Dixie," and the whole song flowed from that (Abel, p. 30).
Some of it is pastiche. The second verse, about "Will the Wever," reportedly comes from the song "Gombo Chaff" (Finson, p. 196), which was from the repertoire of Thomas D. Rice, the original Jim Crow. The final verse, about "buckwheat cakes and 'Injun batter,"" is specifically tied to the steps of the walkaround.
According to Finson, p. 177, although there were blackface minstrels before Emmett (see, e.g., the notes on Thomas D. Rice under "Jump Jim Crow"), "The Virginia Minstrels generally received credit as the first coherent [blackface minstrel] troupe. It included four members who had been engaged in solo or duo blackface performances for some time: William Whitlock on bajo, Richard Pehlam on tambourine, Frank Brower on bones... and Daniel Emmett on fiddle." Emmett reported that the four came together, essentially by chance, at the North American Hotel in the Bowery in New York in 1843. They went to "Uncle" Nate Howes of the nearby Bowery Circus, and after some putzing around, sang "Old Dan Tucker." The rest is musical history.
Emmett himself "hadn't been south of the Mason-Dixon line since 1847 and didn't return until the 1890s" (Abel, p. 45). By 1865, unable to find work in New York, he moved to Chicago, but lost his voice in 1867. He earned a little money as a fiddler, then late in life began, in effect, exhibiting himself as the composer of Dixie (Abel, pp. 45-46). Awarded a modest pension by the Actor's Fund of America, he died in 1904. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
- Abel: E. Lawrence Abel, Singing the New Nation: How Music Shaped the Confederacy, 1861-1865, Stackpole, 2000
- Dichter/Shapiro: Harry Dichter and Elliott Shapiro, Early American Sheet Music: Its Lure and Its Lore, 1768-1889, R. R. Bowker, 1941
- Finson: Jon W. Finson, The Voices That Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song, Oxford University Press, 1994
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.