Friday, April 3, 2009

Snowden's Jig: A Tale of "Dixie" Thievin'and Blackface

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are beloved around here (I can use that word, can't I?) because of their instrumental chops and their frisky stage manners, but I also really appreciate their respect for the history of the tunes they play. Whichever band member is calling the tune will dutifully explain who they learned it from, why it has the name it does and so on. Sometimes the stories are funny,sometimes it's"just the facts ma'am." Either way, it's cool.

So when they debuted "Snowden's Jig" here last weekend, not only did the tune blow me away, it has a great story. Check this story from the Greenboro, North Caroline News & Record for all the details, but the bare bones story goes a little like this.

"Dixie" was not written by a Southerner; the copyright is held by a white guy from Ohio who played minstral shows in blackface makeup named Dan Emmert. Apparently he did not write this or a number of tunes he had published under his name, such classics as "Turkey in the Straw" and "Blue Tailed Fly"as well as one called only "Genuine Negro Jig." A friend turned the 'Drops onto "Genuine Negro Jig" and they learned the history of Dan Emmert's tunes. According to their descendants, Emmert got many of his tunes from a black family of string band musicians who lived nearby, the Snowdens. "Dixie" is held to be one of those tunes he "borrowed" and took credit for, so is that crazy downtempo, minor key jig. The 'Drops are now calling the tune "Snowden's Jig" and had the honor of meeting some of the Snowden descendants last year.

Emmert in blackface. (Trying not to editorialize here, so just a big "No comment" on that one.) >>>

As far as "Dixie"? That battle may end up in court or something. Who knows? But the Snowden clan says Ellen Snowden wrote or remembered the lyrics to "Dixie" from her childhood as a slave in the 1820s and the inscription on the tombstone of her sons Ben and Lew Snowden reads: "They taught 'Dixie' to Dan Emmett."

Neither the Wiki article or the one at mentions these little details about his tunes. Anybody wanna set 'em straight?

Now, if only the Chocolate Drops would answer my email and tell me what key "Snowden's Jig" is in! Can't find a video of "Snowden's Jig" but here's "Cornbread and Butterbeans" another new old favorite.


Angel of Rock said...

Cornbread and Butterbeans was a favorite of mine this time around as well; I think it has something to do with the bones. (so cool).

Sandro said...

I took a video of them performing it recently, and there are not others on youtube as well. My video is:

Pete said...

Nice blog. FYI, the man's name was Dan Emmett, not Emmert...

Unknown said...

Per the songbook, Snowden's Jig is in Gm