Dixieland, where I was born

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One fall afternoon, I was lunching with a close friend of mine at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. A man from another table tentatively approached us and explained that he and his wife were fans of this column.

He grinned, put his hand on my shoulder and leaned closer. “I’ve asked him,” he motioned toward the wandering guitarist who was entertaining patrons, “to play our song.”

I tilted my head and look at him quizzically. We had just met. How could we have a song? “What song?” I asked.

He laughed. “Just wait. You’ll see.”

A few minutes later, slow, gorgeously jazzy sounds drifted across the room. It took a couple of seconds but the haunting melody penetrated my brain and I recognized it. I looked across the dining area to my new friend, who grinned and gave me a thumbs up. I smiled, nodded and winked back.

You don’t hear the song “Dixie” very often, and that saddens me because some have cast this song in a politically incorrect light due to its association with the Confederacy during the Civil War.

It is especially ironic considering that President Abraham Lincoln is said to have claimed it as one of his favorite songs and is rumored to have had it played on the lawn of the White House on the day the war ended.

The irony is doubled when you consider that the song is said to have come from either one of two sources – depending on the history you believe. But one of the stories is true and whichever one it is should free this song from the tyranny of radical abuse.

One story said that Daniel Emmett, a minstrel man, wrote the song because the traveling minstrels always longed for the warmth of the South come the bitter winters when they were touring up North. The minstrel showmen preferred to play the North in the summer and head South in the winter. Legend says that Emmett, longing for the beautiful South, penned the song as a salute to his favorite land.

Emmett, you see, was from Ohio.

The other story that some historians insist is correct is that the song came from the same group of people who gave us the blues and jazz and played enormously important roles in gospel and rock and roll. Some claim that Emmett learned the song from the Snowden brothers, who were the sons of former slaves. Yep, that’s right: African-Americans.

Mickey Newberry, considered one of the great songwriters in modern history, performed the song one night on impulse. But rather than sing it in the traditional, upbeat, rollicking style, he put a Newberry twist on it. He sang it in a slow, jazzy version, added a couple of other songs including “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “All My Trials.” As was the case with most Newberry creations, it became a massive hit for someone else: Elvis Presley.

Should you ever want to see something immensely moving – especially for those with Dixie blood raging through our veins – then attend an Ole Miss football game and hear a slow, haunting musical version of the song. It is a spine-tingling experience.

It troubles me that my childhood, of which I have nothing but fond memories, has now been ordained by some to be politically incorrect. All through elementary school, we daily said the Lord’s Prayer, pledged allegiance to one nation under God and sang Dixie, which seemed particularly special to me because Dixieland is where I “was born in, early on one frosty mornin’.” January, to be exact.

When I die, I hope that those left behind will pray over my lifeless body, thank God for the land of freedom which I have enjoyed and sing Dixie.

I might as well go out of this world as I came in.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Flirting” and “The Town That Came A-Courtin’.” Her newest book is “What Southern Women Know about Faith.” She lives near Gainesville, Ga. Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com.]

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