I learned the Dixie High School Hymn in my choir class when I was a teenager. It was written by a student at that school back in the 1960’s and has become a local tradition. We sang it at choir concerts and pep rallies throughout the school year.
When I made this recording I could only remember the first 8 bars of the melody, but that was all I needed for the podcast intro so I didn’t bother about it. I have since found a recording of the song online, and it turns out that the second 8 bars are substantially similar to the first. We’re not missing much by only hearing the first half.
I recently took a trip to St. George, Utah, which is known by the locals as “Utah’s Dixie.” My daughter wanted a tour of Dixie State College. While we were in town I bought a Dixie High School T-shirt, because it was cheap and because I was feeling nostalgic for my old hometown. We also went to the Deseret Industries Thrift Store, where I found a banjo on sale for much less than it was worth. It sounded pretty good once I tightened the drum head, adjusted the bridge, and tuned it up.
It took me a few days to realize that wearing a T-shirt with the word “Dixie” on the front of it might be offensive to some people. My experience with that word in Southern Utah is so disconnected from its racist history elsewhere in the country that it honestly didn’t occur to me right away that it had a problematic legacy. It’s so easy to be blinded by our own narrow life experiences.
These songs were used as the intro and outro music for a podcast I recorded about this trip to St. George, and the musings it inspired about the word “Dixie.” It seemed appropriate to use the banjo I bought that day in the arrangements.
“Dixie Land” was an incredibly popular tune around the time of the Civil War and for the following 50 years or so. It was originally written by a northern songwriter for a blackface minstrel show, but became so popular in the south that it was played at Jefferson Davis’s inauguration and was considered to be something of a national anthem for the Confederate States.
I don’t want to live in a society which is ripped apart by racism and other forms of tribalism. I want to live in one where we can all acknowledge our past, forgive one another, and work together to build a better future. In the immediate postwar United States, “Dixie Land” became a symbol of the attempt to make that reconciliation a reality.
On the night of the surrender of Lee at Appomattox Mr. Lincoln was serenaded by many friends and enthusiastic northerners. He made the usual kind of conciliatory speech, and cordially invited the erring States to come back into the family.
The band played all sorts of patriotic airs — “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” “Star-Spangled Banner,” and others. Mr. Lincoln, looking toward the band-master, suggested:
“Play ‘Dixie’ now. It’s ours.”
So throughout his whole career his attitude was generous toward the South.Anthony Gross, ed. The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln: The best stories by and about America’s beloved president (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1994), 230.
I hope that these songs will make you think about the great responsibility that we have to work towards harmony and reconciliation in our society. This work is not about hating one another and arguing over our history — it is about loving one another and letting the power of God work its wonders among us.