The Heart of Dixie project slowly came together after a deep searching and self-inventory of sorts as I felt the call back to my home state of Mississippi after two and half decades of living and working in Tennessee. The songs in this collection give voice to the places and people and Southern culture that shaped me from the time I was a child.
I wrote the title song, “The Heart of Dixie,” after the death of the woman who helped care for me when I was little. When I added it to my set list and started singing it publicly, the song began to garner strong audience reactions in places like the Bluebird Cafe and was then featured in publications like the Oxford American.
Like so many white families in the South of the 60s, my working class family from a small Mississippi town enlisted the help of a local African-American woman to help with domestic work and young children. The relationships that grew between members of these families and the ‘help’ was a complicated one, forged in a segregated society and yet connected somehow beneath the surface of skin color or the perceived levels of social class. Dixie was such a person to me. Like the song says, she began working for my grandmother when she was a teenager and then continued to work for my mother when I was a child. My mother grieved her death deeply and was the solitary white congregant asked to speak at her funeral. To me, Dixie felt every bit a part of my family as my blood kin, but the social mores of the times drew different boundaries around us which are still difficult to explain. I felt unconditional love from her….never judgment or bitterness for our different stations in life…”The Heart of Dixie” is my gift to her and is, hopefully, a reflection of the unconditional love of the countless uncelebrated saints of that time and place and culture.