Episode #1215

The Battle of Dixie & Robbie Robertson

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Dixie

One hundred fifty years after the start of the Civil War, a musical revolution continues to divide America: why are we still fighting over the song “Dixie?” Robbie Robertson tells Kurt Andersen about another revolution — going electric with Dylan.  And Kurt asks a documentary filmmaker about the arrest of the artist Ai Weiwei.  China’s most famous artist internationally, Ai has found clever, headline-grabbing ways to critique the Chinese regime, and now the government is striking back. 

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American Icons: Dixie

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.”

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Comments [4]

I deeply enjoyed this story about Dixie. Well done, Studio 360, for covering this song. Hailing from North Carolina, a state which Zebulon Vance (former officer in the CSA and governor of NC) described as a "vale of humility between two mountains of conceit" (referring to our neighbors, Virginia and South Carolina), I believe it is important that Southern history and the Southern contribution to America not be reduced to incomplete summary and caricature.

The majority of North Carolinians had little interest (financial or dogmatic) in continuing the practice of slavery and were reluctant to secede. However, once secession was declared North Carolina contributed enormously to the war effort in the form of troops, provisions and finances. North Carolinian troops numbered 125,000 - more than any other state. One sixth of all Confederate soldiers hailed from NC, although the state was only home to one ninth of the CSA's population. North Carolina paid a great price for this contribution as over 40,000 of its soldiers died from wounds sustained in battle or disease.

North Carolina was also home to an ongoing peace movement. Allegiances were often divided and desertion rates were high. Towards the end of the war North Carolina mustered two regiments of African American troops for the Union Army.

To Ms. Jones of California:
While there are surely problems in the South both in the past and today ignoring a song which clearly has so much cultural importance will not solve the problems of the present nor absolve the sins of the past. And of course, the cliche:
To forget is to risk repeating.

To Ms. Wolff of New York:
Thanks for sharing your memories and further thanks for your bravery and conviction as a young woman. I suspect that Bob Moser is correct in his assertion. To focus exclusively on Southern racism is to deny the existence of racism in other places which, in my experience, has been equally present and often more insidious.

Apr. 26 2011 02:50 PM
Marc Goodman from Toronto

Finally got around to listening to this episode featuring Robbie Robertson (and indirectly an homage to Bob Dylan) and then the story behind "Dixie". One of the best versions of Dixie I have ever heard was in what has to be one of the quirkiest films ever to come out of a camera. "Masked and Anonymous" features kick-ass version of Dixie being played and sung by Dylan.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0319829/

Apr. 21 2011 10:21 PM
Sally Jones from Los Angeles, CA

It's important to remember terrible wrongs that are done in the past, so we can try to avoid doing them again, but there are still people who hang and revere the old confederate flag - because they are racist. The history of this song is too tied up with racism. We should let this song die. It's painful for people to hear and distressing that your show brought it up. Liberals shouldn't glorify songs that signify racism. Fox does it enough. Now I've got it in my head. Elvis has a lot better songs than that old minstrel thing.

Apr. 17 2011 12:00 AM
April Wolff from Manhattan

Re Dixie, I liked Elvis's version. I liked my mother singing We are a band of brothers, united by the soil...And she was by no means a racist. It's part of our history. Will you ever consider covering white Southerners like me, and there were many of us, who were in the Civil Rights Movement in the South. At age 18, I hitched out to a segregated motel and picketed it by myself, was spat at, cursed, things thrown. I knew it would have been much worse for a black man or woman. It seems no one wants to hear good news about the South. For example, the crossroads at the center of town where we sat-in is now MLK Blvd in a majority white town which recently had an African American mayor. Friends from other towns all over the South say the same thing, an MLK road, blvd, or street in a white neighborhood. Could it be because, as Bob Moser, a political editor at The Nation, wrote in his book "Blue Dixie", "Talking about race in the South is a way of not talking about race in the rest of the country." OF COURSE, SLAVERY WAS WRONG. OF COURSE SEGREGATION WAS WRONG. it's wrong in NYV too, where Rev Butts of the Abyssinian Church said segregatioin exists "unofficially". That's why some white Southerners did something about it, even before Rosa Parks, bless her heart. Why doesn't anyone want to know about us?

Apr. 16 2011 04:50 PM

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