Ohio History Journal

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Daniel Emmett's

Negro Sermons and Hymns:

An Inventory


Daniel Decatur Emmett, author of the immortal "Dixie," was born in

Mt. Vernon, Ohio on October 29, 1815, the oldest child of Abraham and

Sarah Emmett. During the 1840s and 1850s he became a major figure in

the development of Negro minstrelsy. His natural abilities as singer,

fiddler, banjoist, and black-face comedian found favor with audiences

across the United States and overseas.

Emmett, if alive today, would be part of the mass-media mainstream

of the "pop" culture movement. His earthy humor, found in stump

speeches and plays; his personalized country lyrics, prevalent in hymns,

songs, round-abouts; his unsophisticated and unpolished dance routines

enjoyed by all social classes of his day, would all delight the contempor-

ary "man in the street."

Few details of his early years can can be documented. He learned the

trade of a printer and probably worked for short periods on two Ohio

newspapers, the Huron Reflector of Norwalk and The Western Aurora

of Mt. Vernon. On May 2, 1834, in Cincinnati, Dan Emmett, claiming to

be a printer and twenty-one years of age, although only nineteen, joined

the army. When the discrepancy was discovered he was officially re-

leased on July 8, 1835. During his fifteen-month stint in the army, he

took advantage of the excellent drum training provided by John "Juba"

Clark, and at the time of his release he was the leading fifer with the Sixth

United States Infantry, stationed at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.

During the late '30s and early '40s, Emmett performed with several

travelling circus groups, notably The Cincinnati Circus Company,

Raymond and Waring's Circus, and Spalding's North American Circus.

It was during this period that he began to experiment with black-face

routines. A personal note on one of the song sheets in the Archives-

Library Division of The Ohio Historical Society records the fact that

"Bill Crowder" was the first Negro song he wrote. The song was written

for Frank Whitaker, equestrian and negro singer, about 1838 or 1839.

In the fall of 1842 Emmett was in New York City, at the Franklin


Dr. Schneider is Associate Professor of Linguistics at Ohio University.