Date: Sun, 15 Sep 1996 16:29:38 -0400
From: "Barry A. Popik" Bapopik[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM
Subject: WHISTLIN' DIXIE: from Whistling Dick!
Last Friday's New York Times, 13 September 1996, pg. 1, cols 4-5, in a
feature by Richard L. Berke called "The Race For President-The South"
["running" for President, perhaps?] that was titled:
"If Clinton Sees Votes in South, He's Not Just Whistling Dixie."
Absolutely no one knows diddly about "Whistling Dixie," and it will be
revealed here for the first time.
One obvious place to consult would be WHISTLIN' DIXIE--A DICTIONARY OF
SOUTHERN EXPRESSIONS by Robert Hendrickson (1993), billed as "a verbal romp
through the land o'cotton." This is surely the place to look. Under
"whistlin' Dixie," it states "See YOU AIN'T JUST WHISTLIN' DIXIE." [Note to
future authors--don't continue your most important entry!!] Under "you ain't
just whistlin' Dixie" [thanks for the extra work!] it states "You're not just
talking or making small talk, you're saying something important, worthwhile.
DIXIE refers to the popular song." Unlike other entries, for this
entry--the book's title!--there is not a single reference given!
In 1994, UMI dissertation services printed "DIXIE": THE CULTURAL HISTORY
OF A SONG AND PLACE by Cheryl Thurber, who received a Ph.D. from the
University of Mississippi in 1993. This is the fullest "Dixie" treatment
ever, but again, no "whistlin' Dixie." In the bibliography on "archive and
manuscript collections," its the author missed the fabulous Filson Collection
in Louisville, KY and the author never even visited New York City (where Dan
Emmett's "Dixie" was first sung), but that's a story for a later date.
As usual--by accident--I came across "America's Song Composers, Part
VI-Septimus Winner" by George Birdseye in Potter's American Monthly, vol.
XII, no. 90, June 1879, pp. 434-435, which tell us about Whistlin' Dick:
There was then in Philadelphia an original character commonly called
"Whistling Dick," a colored individual, Richard Milburn by name, well known
through all the streets of the city. His visible, or rather audible, means
of support was whistling, an accomplishment in which he excelled, really
making some beautiful music, while he strummed an individual accompaniment on
a guitar. He was principally famous for his imitations of the mocking-bird,
and this fact first suggested to Mr. Winner the happy thought of perfecting a
ballad of that nature. This he accomplished, and the ever-popular "Listen to
the Mocking-bird" was the result. It was written to suit the small compass
of Whistling Dick's voice, to whom he taught it, and who did very much
towards starting it on its way to success. On this account Mr. Winner placed
Mr. Milburn's name upon the first editions, which pleased that colored
gentleman hugely. Afterwards brilliant "Variations" were written on the song
by Edward Hoffman, a celebrated pianist of New York. It was a very showy
piece for learners on the pianoforte, not very difficult, and greatly
increased the sale and popularity of the original song, so that it soon
became the rage, and travelled over the ocean to delight our English cousins.
It is not a far leap from "Whistling Dick" to "Whistlin' Dixie." It
should be remembered that in the Philadelphia of that day, there was a
popular minstrel named E. F. Dixey, who sang a "Dixie" called "Dixey."
Again, I must leave that for another day, but "Whistlin' Dixie" is done.