Mickey Newbury and the Battle for Dixie

Mickey Books

It has been a busy month on this end.  My four-years of work on the documentary film “Dixie” nears completion.  That is to say, there are still months of 12-hour days ahead as my editor Trent Reeves and I put the final touches on the film.  I have read quite a few books on the song “Dixie,” it’s composer, Dan Emmett, it’s ties to the African-American Snowden family, and race relations in the U.S. in general.  This is, of course, beside the thousands of first-hand accounts and news articles buried in archives around the country.

The last book I have read for the project is “Mickey Newbury: Crystal & Stone” by author Joe Ziemer.  I had the chance to interview Mr. Ziemer over the weekend about Mr. Newbury’s life and work.  Why Mickey Newbury for a film about the song “Dixie?”

Mickey Newbury was a Houston-raised singer-songwriter who began his recording career in the 1960’s, just as conflicts over race were reaching a boiling point in the U.S.  Mickey took in what was happening in the culture and began recording a series of introspective country albums in Nashville.  His songs were covered by, among others: B.B. King, Solomon Burke, Tom Jones, Willie Nelson, Eddy Arnold, Roy Orbison, Kenny Rogers, Joan Baez, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, John Denver, Tammy Wynette, Linda Ronstadt, Bill Monroe and Olivia Newton-John, to name a few.  Oh, and Elvis Presley.  This is where “Dixie” comes in.

Mickey saw what was happening in the culture and the way “Dixie” was being used, specifically by certain white-robed groups who like to burn crosses.  He wanted to do something about it, so he composed “An American Trilogy,” which combined “Dixie” with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “All My Trials,” a traditional slave song.  The result was one of the most powerful compositions of the 20th Century.  Elvis began covering it in his Las Vegas act and the song soon spread around the world, becoming an anthem or sorts around the world.  Of course, there’s a lot more to the story than that, but I have to save that for the movie.  If you want to know more about Mickey Newbury himself, definitely pick up Joe Ziemer’s book on Amazon.

I will be posting more often now.  My thanks to those of you who are following the blog, it is appreciated.  I look forward to learning more about you all as “Dixie” finishes up.

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