She Wasn’t Just Whistling Dixie

OK, color me shocked an appalled.  At her show last night, Penny Fuller, with no special set-up, launched into a lovely two-verse version of Dixie.  After the song, she continued on without comment to I Got a Name.

Now, maybe I was particularly sensitized to the issue by my great friend and musical mentor Carl Barnwell who refused to play the song in a piano bar setting.  I’ve always put the song in the area of symbols like the Confederate Flag, the Horst Wessel Song, and swastikas that are radioactive and need to be treated with caution.

I know I have an odd combination of being both highly “politically correct” while having an enormous willingness to be offensive in my work.  (I think the balance makes sense because I never want to  offend anyone inadvertently.)  But I thought this callous disregard for how freighted the material is was shocking both from Fuller who spent much of the show discussing her Southerness and from director Barry Kleinbort. 

I had a similar icky moment in the last couple of months.  In a show, a performer discussed his move to college in Indiana after growing up in New York as the first time he ever experienced anti-Semitism.  He then discussed how popular culture created many of these stereotypes.  He then launched into the Irving Berlin song Cohen Owes Me $97 Dollars about a Jewish man who on his deathbed feels the need to communicate the list of monies owed him to his son.  However, he performed the song in a way that expected the audience to genuinely laugh, which everyone else did.  I personally thought it was a very dirty “gotcha” routine to set people up to actually make anti-Semitism appealing.

OK, maybe I’m overly sensitive.  Would love hearing feedback!


3 Responses to She Wasn’t Just Whistling Dixie

  1. Maris Wicker says:

    Had I heard “Dixie” in this context, I might have been tempted to misbehave in public. I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, the capitol of the Confederacy – I attended segregated (the only kind during my childhood years) schools where some teachers announced to their classes that they would not be able to continue teaching if they were “forced” to teach “nigra” children, I HAD to sing “Dixie” in school every morning along with “Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny”, I was terrified and confused when I saw black women arrested for using the white’s only bathroom that my mother had just taken me to, and if I hurry up, I can have one of the spaces in the family mausoleum that is surrounded by Confederate soldiers’ graves in Hollywood Cemetery. I guess all that makes me a Southernor, too. As such, I feel that to present “Dixie” bare like this is to repress the repression. It’s not cute. I might have walked out.

  2. Dorie Hightower says:

    Anti-semitism in any context is just offensive and would be radioactive in a cabaret setting.

  3. Matt H. says:

    Wow! Fascinating, Michael.

    “Dixie” peaked my curiosity and there’s a very good entry for it at Wikipedia that is interesting to read:

    So I understand the offensiveness now. I never knew the story behind the song, although I grew up in the South and am familiar with the tune.

    In that context it seems to me that, if you wanted to perform “Dixie” then you’d have to either put it in a historical context or pair it with a song that could counter-comment on it. (I looked at the lyrics to “I Got A Name” and, although I see the sort of “theme” she was going for, it didn’t address the historical context of “Dixie”).

    I didn’t see the performance, so I’d give Ms. Fuller the benefit of the doubt that she wasn’t aware of what she’d done.

    But I’m hoping that if I ever did a “controversial” song that someone would point that out to me BEFORE I took to the stage with it, LOL.

    I tried singing a nice song once called “I’m Going Home”. I loved the melody and singing about going home. But it had some lyrics about “the shack out back” and felt like it was a minstrel song — that it was probably written for a “slave” to sing about how he liked the old plantation … and so I cut it.

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