Way Up North in Dixie

“Dixie,” or “Dixieland,” are names used to refer to the American South. The song “(I Wish I Was In) Dixie’s Land,” more commonly known just as “Dixie,” was written in 1859 and published by a white blackface entertainer named Daniel Emmett. However, as your reading from Way Up North in Dixie suggests, there is strong evidence that “Dixie” was written by a Black musician from Ohio, Thomas Snowden.

This is especially ironic since “Dixie,” with some additional lyrics, was adopted as the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy in the Civil War. There is a variety of viewpoints about whether the song should be performed today.

Nevertheless, some modern-day African American musicians are reclaiming the song’s Black roots. As René Marie says:

Why should I let someone’s misuse of a song determine whether I like it? I want to reclaim it as my mine — I’m from the South, too . . . But instead of singing it in this happy, up-tempo way it’s usually played, I’m going to put some grit in there and some dirt, and sing it from the perspective of my people.

And multimedia artist John Sims has produced an album called “The AfroDixie Remixes” which he describes as “playing ‘Dixie’ in the key of black.”

Some Black artists are working to reclaim the music and instruments of minstrelsy. Rhiannon Giddens explains why she plays a replica of a minstrel banjo.

Rocker Gary Clark, Jr.’s 2020 song “This Land” is a response to and an argument against the kind of reclamation project that Giddens and other musicians are involved in. As Clark notes, this land belongs to African Americans.

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