Turkey in the Straw

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"Chicken Reel/Turkey in the Straw medley" performed by the United States Air Force Band

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"Turkey in the Straw" is a well-known American folk song dating from the early 19th century. The first part of the song's tune may be derived from the ballad "My Grandmother Lived on Yonder Little Green" which was derivative of the Irish ballad "The Old Rose Tree."[1] Originally a tune for fiddle players, it was first popularized in the late 1820s and early 1830s by blackface performers, notably George Washington Dixon,[2] Bob Farrell[2] and George Nichols.[citation needed]


Turkey in de straw, turkey in de hay
Turkey in de straw, turkey in de hay
Roll 'em up an' twist 'em up a high tuc-ka-haw
An' twist 'em up a tune called Turkey in the Straw

One traditional version has a chorus with these lyrics:

Turkey in the hay, in the hay, in the hay.
Turkey in the straw, in the straw, in the straw,
Pick up your fiddle and rosin your bow,
And put on a tune called Turkey in the Straw.

Another goes:

Turkey in the straw — Haw haw haw
Turkey in the hay — Hey hey hey
The Reubens [farm people] are dancing to Turkey in the Straw
Hey highdy heydy, and a haw haw haw

There are versions from the American Civil War, versions about fishing and one with nonsense verses. Folklorists have documented folk versions with obscene lyrics from the 19th century.

Another version is called "Natchez Under the Hill". The lyrics are thought to have been added to an earlier tune by Bob Farrell who first performed them in a blackface act on August 11, 1834.

Another one goes:

Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay,
Turkey in the straw what do you say.
Funnest thing I ever saw.
It's a little tune called Turkey in the Straw.

Harry C. Browne recorded a racist version in 1916 called "Nigger Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!".[3] This version relied heavily on the offensive and widespread coon stereotype.

In 1942, a soundie titled, "Turkey in the Straw" was created by Freddie Fisher and The Schnickelfritz Band. (Directed by Sam Coslow and Produced by Josef Berne).

There are two versions to the chorus that are sung.

Turkey in the Straw, A' Turkey in the hay,
A' Turkey in the Straw, "What did you say?"
Hay! Roll 'em, twist 'em up a high tuc-ka-haw,
Hittin' up a tune called "Turkey in the Straw."

Followed by

A' Turkey in the Straw, A' Turkey in the grass,
A' Turkey in the Straw, "I get a kick outta this.."
Roll 'em, twist 'em up a high tuc-ka-haw,
Hittin' up a tune called "Turkey in the Straw."

In Barney & Friends they used these lyrics

Turkey in the Straw (whistles)
Turkey in the Straw (whistles)
Hats on, boots on Yee Hah
Sing a little song called "Turkey in the Straw."

"Zip Coon"[edit]

Another song, "Zip Coon", sung to the same tune as "Turkey in the Straw",[4] was popularized by Dixon and flourished during the Andrew Jackson administration. This version was first published between 1829 and 1834 in either New York or Baltimore. All of the above performers claimed to have written the song, and the dispute is not resolved. Ohio songwriter Daniel Decatur Emmett is sometimes erroneously credited as the song's author.[5]

"Zip Coon" has a vocal range of an octave and a minor sixth. Both the verse and the chorus end on the tonic, and both begin a major third above the tonic. In the verse, the highest note is a fifth above the tonic and the lowest is a minor sixth below. In the chorus, the highest note is an octave above the last note, and the lowest is the last note itself. The song stays in key throughout.


"Zip Coon" has many different lyrical versions. Thomas Birch published a version in 1834,[6] while George Washington Dixon published a version called "Ole Zip Coon" with different lyrics circa 1835.[7] Both Birch's and Dixon's versions keep the same chorus and the first four stanzas:

(3x) O ole Zip Coon he is a larned skoler,
Sings posum up a gum tree an conny in a holler.
(3x) Posum up a gum tree, coonny on a stump,
Den over dubble trubble, Zip coon will jump.

O Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.
O Zip a duden duden duden duden duden day.
O Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.
Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.

O ist old Suky blue skin, she is in lub wid me
I went the udder arter noon to take a dish ob tea;
What do you tink now, Suky hab for supper,
Why chicken foot an posum heel, widout any butter.


Did you eber see the wild goose, sailing on de ocean,
O de wild goose motion is a berry pretty notion;
Ebry time de wild goose, beckens to de swaller,
You hear him google google google google gollar.


I went down to Sandy Hollar t other arternoon
And the first man I chanced to meet war ole Zip Coon;
Ole Zip Coon he is a natty scholar,
For he plays upon de Banjo “Cooney in de hollar”.

In subsequent stanzas, both lyricists talk about events in the life of Andrew Jackson, Birch of President Jackson's battle with the Second Bank of the United States[6] and Dixon of General Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.[7] When the Mexican American War broke out, Dixon published a new version of "Zip Coon" with updated lyrics pertaining to the war:

And spite of any rumors
We'll vanquish all the Montezumas![4]

The chorus "Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day" influenced the song "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" in Walt Disney's 1947 adaptation of Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus tales, Song of the South.[4]

Modern uses[edit]

  • In 1928, this was used as the base melody in the famous early Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie.[8][9][10] The rendering of the tune in the cartoon is noted for being one of the first instances of successful synchronization in animated films.[11]
  • The melody is quoted in Charles Ives' Second Symphony.[12]
  • A slower and more orchestral version used in the song "Oklahoma Mixer" known in Japan and other East Asian countries is often played during gym classes where students practice a line dance to the tune.
  • The song is used as the main theme in the 2008 low-budget horror film Carver.
  • In the novel A Confederacy of Dunces, Ignatius J. Reilly bemoans America's love of "Turkey in the Straw", complaining that "grimy undergraduates and grammar school children are always chanting it like sorcerers!"
  • In the 1993 Warner Brothers cartoon, Animaniacs, "Turkey in the Straw" is used in a Jeopardy parody. One of the 3 main characters, Wakko Warner sings lyrics naming the 50 US states and their capitals. [13]

References in classical music[edit]

  • Erno Dohnanyi used the tune (and also two other traditional American folktunes) in his composition American Rhapsody (1953).
  • David W. Guion wrote a piano transcription.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Linscott, Eloise H. (2011) [First published 1939]. Folk Songs of Old New England. Dover Publications. p. 244. ISBN 978-0486278278. 
  2. ^ a b Studwell, William E. (1997). The Americana Song Reader. Haworth Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-7890-0150-0. 
  3. ^ Browne, Harry C. "Nigger Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!". AuthenticHistory.com. Recorded March 1916. Retrieved 19 March 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Emerson, Ken (1997). Doo-dah!: Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 60. ISBN 978-0684810102. 
  5. ^ "Dan Emmett - The Man Who Wrote "Dixie" by Wayne Erbsen". NativeGround.com. Retrieved June 10, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Birch, Thomas. "Zip Coon". University of Virginia. Retrieved 24 December 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Dixon, G.W. "OLE ZIP COON". International Lyrics Playground. Retrieved 24 December 2013. 
  8. ^ Rimgaila Salys, The Musical Comedy Films of Grigorii Aleksandrov: Laughing Matters, p. 86, at Google Books
  9. ^ New Scientist 7 Jun 1979, p. 832, at Google Books
  10. ^ The New Illustrated Treasury of Disney Songs, p. 9, at Google Books
  11. ^ Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, p. 55, at Google Books
  12. ^ J. Peter Burkholder, '"Quotation" and Paraphrase in Ives' Second Symphony', 19th Century Music, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 3-25. [accessed 26 July 2013]
  13. ^ Animaniacs Wikipedia Page ' [1] [accessed 28 March, 2015]

Further reading[edit]

  • Fuld, James (1966). The Book of World Famous Music, Classical, Popular and Folk.

External links[edit]