Emmett, Daniel Decatur (1815 - 1904)

Index to poems

Biography: 

Daniel Decatur Emmett was born in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, on October 29, 1815. After working in newspaper offices, and serving in the army, Emmett played in circus bands. Emmett organized the first black minstrel company, the Virginia Minstrels, in New York in 1843; he played the violin, and his band was a great success. From 1857 to 1865 he worked with the Bryant Minstrels, during which time he wrote "Dixie's Land" and other "walk-arounds," written in an artificial black dialect. His first wife Catharine Rives suggested the title for the song "Dixie's Land" that became the anthem of the Confederate States after a performance in New Orleans in the spring of 1861. Following the Civil War Emmett moved to Chicago until 1888, when he retired to his birthplace. Only in 1895 did an old friend, Al. G. Field, a minstrel manager, find him and identify him to the world as the composer of the song and its tune. Emmett enjoyed popularity during a tour in 1895-96 and, with some legal representation, recovered copyright for the song and finally earned income from it. Remarried in 1879 to Mary Louise Bird after Catharine's death in 1875, Emmett himself died on June 28, 1904. His friend Field arranged for Emmett to lie in state at the Mt. Vernon Elks' lodge, and the funeral service was held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. The best edition of the poet's works, and the best biography, is Charles Burleigh Galbreath's Daniel Decatur Emmett (Columbus, Ohio: Fred J. Heer, 1904).

Given Name: 
Daniel Decatur
Family Name: 
Emmett
Birth Date: 
October 29, 1815
Death Date: 
July 28, 1904
Nationality: 
Literary Period: 
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Buried At: