The holidays are approaching, and I am staying home.
As Covid-19 cases rise exponentially around the USA, we are being advised not to travel.
And to limit all gatherings to as few people as possible.
And to wear masks.
And to socialize outside if possible.
It’s very difficult not to spend time with loved ones, especially during the holiday season.
I’ll participate in a couple of Zoom gatherings on Thanksgiving and probably on Christmas, too.
I recorded this song by Robert Allen and Al Stillman a few years ago with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio north of Boston.
Composer Robert Allen and lyricist Al Stillman wrote several hits for Perry Como (Allen was his accompanist for many years) and also for Johnny Mathis — such as “It’s Not For Me To Say” and “Chances Are.”
Al Stillman also had a decades-long career as a staff writer at Radio City Music Hall.
Both of them were Jewish.
As I have written in past blog posts, a lot of my favorite holiday songs were written or co-written by Jewish songwriters — including “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks.
Most of these composers and lyricists were immigrants or the children of immigrants.
I think of these songs as valuable threads in the social fabric/history of the USA.
However, when I was mixing this particular song with Doug via Zoom earlier this month, one word in the lyrics jumped out at me in a new way.
This year’s activism in the USA has changed the way I hear certain words — such as “Dixie.”
According to an article I found on WRAL.com — a North Carolina TV station’s website — “historians disagree about the origins of the word ‘Dixie.'”
“Some believe it derives from the Mason-Dixon line, between Maryland and Pennsylvania (which) was drawn in 1767 to resolve a border dispute between the colonies but later became the informal border separating the South and North.”
Other historians trace the word “Dixie” back to $10 notes in Louisiana in the 1800s.
On the back of these notes was printed “dix” — which means ten in French — and the Citizens’ Bank of New Orleans issued many of these notes before the Civil War.
They became known as “Dixies.”
The word “Dixie” appears in a LOT of popular songs dating from the middle of the 19th century right through most of the 20th century.
“I Wish I Was In Dixie” a.k.a. “Dixie” was written by Daniel Decatur Emmett and published in 1859 — although some historians believe that Ohio-born Emmett appropriated/stole it from an African-American family (also from Ohio) who performed for many decades as the Snowden Family Band.
“Dixie” originally appeared in minstrel shows — a very popular form of entertainment in which white performers impersonated and made fun of black people using racist stereotypes — which Dan Emmett performed in and produced all around the USA.
Then it became a popular Confederate Army marching song and an unofficial national anthem of the Confederacy.
I was surprised to learn that it was also a favorite song of Abraham Lincoln (who was born in Kentucky) and that many different sets of lyrics for “Dixie” have been written over the years by people living north AND south of the Mason-Dixon line.
You can read a Wikipedia article about the song by clicking here.
After the Civil War, the word “Dixie” continued to turn up in popular songs — often written by northern songwriters who had never even visited the south.
It was usually used to evoke a mythical way of life full of relaxed pleasures while completely ignoring the horrific history of slavery (which happened not just in the southern states but all over the USA, including on an estate in Medford, MA, just a short bike ride away from where I live outside Boston).
This is why the musical group The Dixie Chicks (whose name I did not realize was in part a pun on a beloved album and song, “Dixie Chicken” by the rock band Little Feat) recently decided to rename themselves The Chicks.
This is also why commissioners in Florida’s Miami-Dade county voted unanimously earlier this year to rename sections of the Old Dixie Highway under their jurisdiction as the Harriet Tubman Highway in honor of the abolitionist who led many, many enslaved people to freedom.
So… as soon as Doug is comfortable hosting other human beings in his recording studio again, I am going to re-record the line in “Home For The Holidays” which mentions Dixie — singing “Georgia’s southern shore” instead of “Dixie’s southern shore.”
I will also continue to wear a face mask whenever I go outside.
And I will remain grateful to live in a state led by a governor — and a Republican at that! — who respects science and scientists.
And I will continue to light a candle for all of the folks we have lost to Covid-19 so far.
Deep breath in…
Deep breath out…
Thank you to all of the health care professionals and hospital support staff who take care of folks with Covid-19 — even the people who refuse to wear masks or respect the fact that we are living in a public health emergency.
Thank you to all of the essential workers who staff our food stores and deliver our packages.
Thank you to Al Stillman and Robert Allen for writing “Home For the Holidays.”
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his musical AND production skills.
Thank you to Pixabay for most of the beautiful images in this blog post.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.
May you have safe and loving holidays this year despite our current pandemic.
Another deep breath in…
And deep breath out…