The composer of this song was a northern minstrel singer, Daniel D. Emmett (1854-1904), a native of Ohio and son of an abolitionist. "Dixie" was written and first performed in New York City in April 1859, as part of a minstrel show. Emmett later explained that the line "I wish I was in Dixie" might have come from his wife, who complained about northern winters.
The tune was an immediate hit, and it quickly popularized the word "dixie," whose origins are obscure, as a nickname for the South. By the fall of 1860, the song had spread to the South and was soon appropriated as a Confederate marching song and anthem.
Different versions of "Dixie" soon appeared, composed by different people, making it virtually impossible to reproduce the original lyrics. At Jefferson Davis's inauguration, the band played a version approximating Emmett's.
Although Emmett's authorship of "Dixie" is generally recognized, recent scholarship has raised another possibility. Instead of the white minstrel Emmett, some scholars believe that "Dixie" was composed by two free blacks, Ben and Lew Snowden. The Snowden family lived in Emmett's hometown, Mount Vernon, Ohio, and Emmett returned there frequently to visit relatives who lived next door to the Snowdens. Six of the Snowden children, including Ben and Lew, were musicians. At the graves of Ben and Lew Snowden there is a marker reading, "They taught 'Dixie' to Dan Emmett." Given the disputed claims of authorship, it is possible that more than one person created "Dixie."
This version of "Dixie" was recorded by Paul Schierhorn, who provided all vocals and instrumentation.
VIDEO: Dixie (3.1 MB)