American Icons: Dixie


Friday, April 15, 2011


This is the tune the nation brought to war.

It’s been a century-and-a-half since a minstrel tune called “Dixie” debuted in New York.  The song went viral, and soon North and South alike were whistling “Dixie.”  With the outbreak of the Civil War, “Dixie” became an anthem of the antebellum way of life.  And today we are still fighting over “Dixie.”  Studio 360’s Trey Kay asks why it continues to divide the nation.





Bonus Track: Elvis Sings "Dixie"
Elvis Presley sings "Dixie" as part of the song "American Trilogy."

Bonus Track: "Union Dixie"
"Dixie" was popular in the North and the South.  Bobby Horton performs this version, just for Yankees.

Bonus Track: "Everybody's Dixie"
Horton performs extra verses for those partial to the South in "Everybody's Dixie."


Video: Bing Crosby sings “Dixie”
Minstrel shows aren’t ancient history.  A black-faced Bing Crosby performed this version of “Dixie” in a 1943 movie of the same name.

    Music Playlist
  1. Dixie (I Wish I Was in Dixie)
    Artist: Patriotic Fathers
    Album: American Celebration - The Ultimate Patriotic Music Collection (July 4th - Memorial Day - Labor Day)
    Label: BFM Digital
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. "Dixie"
    Artist: Bing Crosby
    Album: music from the 1943 motion picture "Dixie"
  3. Everybody’s Dixie
    Artist: Bobby Horton
    Album: Homespun Songs of the C.S.A. Volume 1
    Label: Bobby Horton
    Purchase: Amazon
  4. Union Dixie
    Artist: Bobby Horton
    Album: Homespun Songs of the Union Army, Volume 3
    Label: Bobby Horton
    Purchase: Amazon
  5. Dixie
    Artist: Bobby Horton
    Album: Homespun Songs of the C.S.A. Volume 1
    Label: Bobby Horton
    Purchase: Amazon
  6. Dixie
    Artist: Attendees of the 2011 Lee-Jackson Day Ceremony
    Album: Live performance in the Lee Chapel, Lexington, VA
  7. American Trilogy
    Artist: Elvis Presley
    Album: Elvis: Viva Las Vegas (2007 Remaster)
    Label: RCA
    Purchase: Amazon


Trey Kay

Comments [9]

Gaetano Catelli from America

re: "Video: Bing Crosby sings “Dixie”
Minstrel shows aren’t ancient history. A black-faced Bing Crosby performed this version of “Dixie” in a 1943 movie of the same name."

if any group is made to look stereotypically foolish in this clip, it is the white Southerners. there is nothing in it that is demeaning to non-whites.

so, who/whom was being prejudiced in its making, and who/whom is being prejudiced by presenting it here with the implication that a film made 68 years ago, notwithstanding more social change since than anywhere else in the world, is somehow "recent" history?

Jun. 15 2011 12:48 AM
Michael M in MS from Tupelo, MS

As a white Mississippian, I was raised to be proud of my heritage as a Southerner. The flag and the song were a part of that, but it had NOTHING to do with racism. I was born in 1970 and attended integrated public schools in a school district that was 75% black. Racism is not a part of my life, and it never has been.

As I've gotten older, I've come to realize that symbols can mean different things to different people and it doesn't make either of them wrong. It's a shame that symbols have been used by racist organizations such as the KKK and the symbols have become tarnished.

As for racism in today's South, sure, it's still here. But it's everywhere. My view is that Southerners of all races work together today better than in other parts of the nation partially because we were forced to work together. Today, there is more economic growth in the South than there is in other parts of the country. We aren't where we need to be, but we've come so far.

Apr. 25 2011 11:40 AM
Chris from Portland

Really enjoyed this piece on Dixie. What an incredibly complex place our little country is.

Lift Every Voice and Sing is about overcoming institutionalized oppression and walking hand in hand to peace. That David would suggest that that song is the moral equivalent of Dixie is astounding to me, and shows that, in some ways, we have made little progress at all in 150 years.

I understand the idea of not wanting your heritage to be forcibly taken away from you. The problem is that, in this case, that isn't happening. No one is preventing anyone from flying the Confederate flag at their homes or painting it on their cars. No one is prevented from singing Dixie while walking down the street if they feel like it. While some institutions may have dropped the flag and Dixie from their public ceremonies, this doesn't mean that these things are being banned from use by all people for all time by Yankee fiat.

The cries of heritage ring very false to me when there is still so much racism prevalent throughout the south. Yes, there is racism everywhere in the US, but it was never so blatantly institutionalized as it was in the south, and it was only in the south that they decided to base their entire economy upon it. It lingers in the south in a way it doesn't anywhere else in the US, and that white supremacy was just as much a part of family life as it was civic life.

In the end, no one is being forced to do or not do anything, our culture is simply changing and people are less and less interested in hearing Dixie, seeing the Confederate flag and in refighting the civil war. This is not anything being forcibly taken away, this is simply people changing their minds. I flinch at hearing terms like "cultural genocide" being used by people whose heritage is one of institutionalized bigotry, and who argue that the most meaningful ways they have to honor their dead relatives just also happen to be potent symbols of that bigotry.

All of that said, if anyone ever tried to pass a law banning the Confederate flag or Dixie I would be the first in line to oppose it. I absolutely think these things should be preserved, remembered and studied in our museums and classrooms for what they are - emblems of the losing side of a war, symbols of our bigoted past and reminders of our complicated present.

Apr. 20 2011 09:58 PM
Debbie T. from Princeton, NJ

Special thanks to Tom Babcock for bringing up the Dylan connection. I found Dylan's use of the song in Masked and Anonymous very troubling, and Sean Wilentz's contextualizing does not dispel my anxiety. (Aside: the Ed Harris figure is frightening.) As an American with ancestors who fought on both sides (but mostly for the Union), I don't think this song will ever be acceptable in my home. The political world in America today does not afford the luxury of historical contextualizing and sentimental regrets. (Meanwhile, shine on, Kurt Andersen!

Apr. 20 2011 04:43 PM
John D. from Seattle

"In the land of cotton" highlights the role of the cotton gin in prolonging the American variety of slavery, which grew out of indentured servitude whereby Irish, English homeless, Africans, and other disadvantaged were brought to these shores to serve without pay and with minimal care. Once indenture changed into slavery, a slave was an important economic investment, unlike in other slave-holding countries such as Brazil, where slaves were so mistreated that they died in large numbers. After emancipation, African Americans were no longer of economic value and under Jim Crow often suffered greater mistreatment than under slavery. The popularity of the song Dixie can better be seen as an endorsement of the system of Jim Crow, an even more brutal time of history than slavery.

Apr. 19 2011 10:46 PM
Jolene C. from Washington

Unless you have a point of reference, can you ever truly know how painful it feels to be reminded through iconic images and music the brutality people of color have suffered, and discrimination that is still present today in this country? The racist implications are not supported by the less fortunate and weak, who had no "say so", in how their people are depicted. It is shameful in my humble opinion, that we are having the same discussions 150 years later. It would be great to see a song that apologizes for, instead of celebrates the most violent and brutal slavery that man has ever witnessed and captured evidence of, in history.

Apr. 17 2011 11:04 PM

Is Dixie more offensive than the black national anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing? Both represent minorities in our country. We would be more tolerant if we accepted both as part of our cultural heritage.

Apr. 17 2011 04:02 PM
Vonn from California

I enjoyed the piece about "Dixie", and I certainly think it deserves the status as an American Icon worth revisiting and examining. I was disappointed, however, that Studio 360 did not mention Percival Everett's short story "The Appropriation of Cultures." Any contemporary discussion of that song has to include mention of that brilliant take on the song. WNYC's own Selected Shorts had a great performance of that story read by the actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson. I urge listeners to check it out, and for Studio 360 to link to that recording from Selected Shorts.

Apr. 16 2011 09:46 PM
Tom Babcock from Philadelphia

Racism was, indeed, (or perhaps is) just as rampant in the North, where I grew up, as it was in the South--just not as formally instituted. That said, music can move people for many reasons, and while some may have racist feelings, others may identify with a region or a place, with a heritage and ancestry, or simply with a melody. To love the sound of "Dixie" does not mean one endorses slavery or rebellion. My favorite version is Dylan, and it would be hard to call him a racist. Consider analogy with family--your father or your son or your brother may do something you abhor, but do you not still love him as father/son/brother? A father should give his son unconditional love, but that does not mean endorsing bad behavior. Is it not the same with home?

Apr. 16 2011 08:28 AM

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