Emmett, Daniel Decatur

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Emmett, Daniel Decatur

Emmett, Daniel Decatur, American composer of popular songs and minstrel performer; b. Mt. Vernon, Ohio, Oct. 29, 1815; d. there, June 28, 1904. After teaching himself to play the fiddle, he was a drummer and fifer in the U.S. Army (1834–35). He then appeared as a blackface banjoist and singer with circus troupes until going to N.Y. in 1842, where he formed a duo with Frank Brower. Emmett played the fiddle and Brower bones. With William Whitlock on banjo and Richard Pelham on tambourine, they formed the Virginia Minstrels in 1843 and toured extensively. After disbanding the group, Emmett performed with Brant’s Minstrels (1858–66). In 1859 he wrote the lyrics and music to the song “I Wish I Was in Dixie’s Land,” which was first heard in N.Y. on April 4th of that year. After its publication, its popularity spread widely as it became known simply as “Dixie”; it was adopted as a Southern fighting song during the Civil War. Emmett lived in Chicago (1867–70; 1871–88). Following the loss of his voice, he resorted to playing the fiddle in saloons. In 1888 he returned to his birthplace and lived out the remainder of his life in straitened circumstances. Although he wrote many songs and tunes, they were all eclipsed by the success of the ubiquitous “Dixie.”


C. Galbreath, D. D. E., Author of Dixie (Columbus, Ohio, 1904); H. Wintermute, D. D. E. (Mt. Vernon, Ohio, 1955);H. Nathan, D. E. and the Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy (Norman, Okla., 1962).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire