Turkey in the Straw

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"Turkey in the Straw"
Sheet music
GenreAmerican folk music, minstrel

"Turkey in the Straw" is an American folk song that first gained popularity in the 19th century. Early versions of the song were titled "Zip Coon", which were first published around 1834 and performed in minstrel shows, with different people claiming authorship of the song. The melody of "Zip Coon" later became known as "Turkey in the Straw"; a song titled "Turkey in de Straw" with different music and lyrics was published in 1861 together with the wordless music of "Zip Coon" added at the end, and the title "Turkey in the Straw" then became linked to the tune of "Zip Coon".[1][2]

The song is related to a number of tunes of the 19th century and the origin of these songs has been widely debated.[3][4] Links to older Irish/Scottish/English ballads have been proposed, such as "The Old Rose Tree". The song became highly popular and many variations of the song exist. It was also frequently adapted and used in popular media.


"Turkey in the Straw" is thought to be originally a tune from 19th century minstrel shows, "Zip Coon" or "Old Zip Coon", published around 1834. The authorship of the song has been claimed by George Washington Dixon who popularized the song, as well as Bob Farrell and George Nicholls.[2] "Zip Coon" in turn has been linked to a number of 19th folk songs believed to have older antecedents in Irish/Scottish/English folk songs. Songs proposed it has links to include "Natchez Under the Hill", "The Old Bog Hole", "The Rose Tree", "Sugar in the Gourd", "The Black Eagle", "Glasgow Hornpipe", "Haymaker's Dance", "The Post Office", "Old Mother Oxford", "Kinnegad Slasher" and others.[5][6]

Eloise Hubbard Linscott believes the first part of the song is a contrafactum of the ballad "My Grandmother Lived on Yonder Little Green", published in 1857 by Horace Waters, which is in turn said to be a contrafactum of the Irish/Scottish/English ballad "The Old Rose Tree" published by at least 1795 in Great Britain.[7] The link to "The Old Rose Tree" has been questioned,[4] but a number of musicologists suggest that it may be a composite of "The Rose Tree" and "The (Bonny) Black Eagle".[6] Similar tune was popular with fiddle players as early as 1820, and the tune of "Turkey in the Straw"/"Zip Coon" may have come from the fiddle tune "Natchez Under the Hill" believed to have been derived from "Rose Tree".[8][9]

The title "Turkey in the Straw" later became associated with the tune of "Zip Coon" in an unusual way. According to James J. Fuld, Dan Bryant copyrighted a song with new lyrics and music titled "Turkey in the Straw" on July 12, 1861, but with the wordless music of "Zip Coon" (but titled "Old Melody") attached at the end. The tune of "Zip Coon" then became known as "Turkey in the Straw".[2]


First verse

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

Traditional chorus

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.

First verse of another version

Turkey in the straw – Ha ha ha
Turkey in the hay – Hey hey hey
The Reubens are dancing to Turkey in the Straw
Hey highdy heydy, and a haw haw haw

First verse of another version

Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay
Tune up the fiddle, doodle de day
With a rump and riddle and a high tuc-ka-haw
Strike up that tune called "Turkey in the Straw"

The full lyrics

As I was a-gwine down the road,
Tired team and a heavy load,
Crack my whip and the leader sprung,
l seys day-day to the wagon tongue.

Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay,
Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay
Roll 'em up and twist 'em up a high tuckahaw
And twist 'em up a tune called Turkey in the Straw.

Went out to milk, and I didn't know how,
I milked the goat instead of the cow.
A monkey sittin' on a pile of straw,
A-winkin' at his mother-in-law.

Met Mr. Catfish comin' down stream.
Says Mr. Catfish, "What does you mean?"
Caught Mr. Catfish by the snout,
And turned Mr. Catfish wrong side out.

Came to a river and I couldn't get across,
Paid five dollars for a blind old hoss;
Wouldn't go ahead, nor he wouldn't stand still,
So he went up and down like an old saw mill.

As I came down the new cut road,
Met Mr. Bullfrog, met Miss Toad
And every time Miss Toad would sing,
Old Bullfrog cut a pigeon wing.

Oh I jumped in the seat and I gave a little yell
The horses ran away, broke the wagon all to hell
Sugar in the gourd and honey in the horn
I never been so happy since the day I was born."

Tuckahoe (Peltandra virginica, also called green arrow arum) = an edible wetland plant with long petioles
Reubens = farmers

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.

Lyrics of The Wiggles and Sharon Lois and Bram

Turkey in the straw—Haw haw haw
Turkey in the hay—Hey hey hey
And the old folks danced with their mother-in-law
As they danced to a tune we call "Turkey in the Straw"

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

First verse of another version

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.

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. The first goes:

Chorus; first version

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".

Chorus; second version

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 Haw!
Sing a little song called "Turkey in the Straw".

Mickey's Fun Songs and Sesame Street[citation needed] use these lyrics:

I was a-going down a dusty road,
With a team of horses and a great big load,
It was oh such a warm and lazy afternoon,
So I tapped my toe and started singing a tune.

Dancing tonight,
Dancing tonight,
Happiest people you ever saw
Will be Dancing Together with the Turkey in the Straw

"Zip Coon"[edit]

Front cover of a 1834 sheet music for "Zip Coon" by George Washington Dixon

The title of "Zip Coon" or "Old Zip Coon" was used to signify a dandified free Black man in northern United States.[10] "Zip" was a diminutive of "Scipio", a name commonly used for slaves.[11] According to Stuart Flexner, "coon" was short for "raccoon" and by 1832 meant a frontier rustic and by 1840 also a Whig who had adopted coonskin cap as a symbol of white rural people.[12][10] Although the song "Zip Coon" was published c.1830, at that time, "coon" was typically used to refer to someone white, it was only in 1848 when a clear use of the word "coon" to refer to a Black person in a derogative sense appeared. It is possible that the negative racial connotation of the word evolved from "Zip Coon" and the common use of the word "coon" in minstrel shows. Another suggested derivation of the word meaning a Black person is barracoon, an enclosure for slaves in transit that was increasingly used in the years before American Civil War.[10] However, on the stage, "coon" could have been used much earlier as a Black character was named Raccoon in a 1767 colonial comic opera.[13]

The song was first performed by Bob Farrell, and popularized by George Washington Dixon in the 1830s.[1][10] This version was first published between 1829 and 1834 in either New York or Baltimore. Dixon, and Bob Farrell and George Nicholls had separately claimed to have written the song, and the dispute has not been not resolved.[2] Ohio songwriter Daniel Decatur Emmett is sometimes erroneously credited as the song's author.[14]

"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.

The song gave rise to the blackface minstrel show character Zip Coon.[15]

"Zip Coon" has many different lyrical versions. Thomas Birch published a version in 1834,[16] while George Washington Dixon published a version called "Ole Zip Coon" with different lyrics circa 1835.[17] Both Birch's and Dixon's versions keep the same chorus and the first four stanzas:

(3×) O ole Zip Coon he is a larned skoler,
Sings posum up a gum tree an coony in a holler.
(3×) 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[16] and Dixon of General Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.[17] When the Mexican–American War began, 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![18]

The chorus "Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day" likely influenced the song "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" in Walt Disney's 1946 adaptation of Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus tales, Song of the South.[18]

Another version of "Old Zip Coon" with new self-referencing lyrics by David K. Stevens (1860–1946) was published in the Boy Scout Song Book (1920).[19][20] Stevens' lyrics contain no direct racial references other than the title of the song itself:

There once was a man with a double chin,
Who played with skill on a violin:
And he played in time and he played in tune,
But he never played anything but 'Old Zip Coon'.

"Nigger Love a Watermelon, Ha! Ha! Ha!"[edit]

"Nigger Love a Watermelon, Ha! Ha! Ha!" is a 1916 adaptation of "Turkey in the Straw", performed by Harry C. Browne and produced by Columbia Records.[21] It has since been named the most racist song title in the United States for its use of watermelon stereotypes.[21][22][23]

The song was released in March 1916. It was performed by the silent movie actor Harry C. Browne.[24] It was released with "Old Dan Tucker" as a B-side.[25] The music for it was based upon "Turkey in the Straw" and performed with Browne singing baritone whilst playing a banjo with orchestral accompaniment.[26] A contemporary review in July 1916 called it: "... a treat to tickle the musical palates of those who love to listen to the old-time slave-day river songs".[26] Columbia Records continued to promote it up to 1925.[27] The song used racist stereotypes in it with Browne describing watermelons as "colored man's ice-cream".[28]

Radio DJ Dr. Demento, who had played older songs with racial overtones on the radio, refused to ever play this song because he felt that the title showed it was always intended to be hateful.[29] In 2014, Dr. Theodore R. Johnson asserted that the jingle used by many ice cream trucks in the United States was based upon this song.[30] It has been argued that this allegation is incorrect, as the "Turkey in the Straw" tune had been used long before this song was created.[31] Nevertheless, because of the association, a number of American ice cream truck companies ceased to use the "Turkey in the Straw" melody for their jingles.[32]

Performance history[edit]

The early Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie which prominently features Turkey in the Straw
  • In 1928, this was used as the base melody in the famous early Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie.[33][34][35] The rendering of the tune in the cartoon is noted for being one of the first instances of successful synchronization in animated films.[36] The tune became prominent in Disney's animated series and was used in many subsequent cartoons in the 1920s and 1930s, including the first Mickey Mouse cartoon in color, The Band Concert, in which Donald Duck annoys an orchestra by repeatedly playing the tune over their efforts at The William Tell Overture.
  • The 1990s animated television series Animaniacs used the tune for "Wakko's America", in which Wakko names all 50-state capitals in the form of a song.[37][38]
  • In 1942, Carson Robison performed an anti-Axis Powers version of "Turkey in the Straw".[39]
Phonograph record version by Clayton McMichen.

Artistic and popular use of "Turkey in the Straw" through the years has established the song as an item of Americana.

  • "Turkey in the Straw" was Billy the Kid's favorite song.[40]
  • "Turkey in the Straw" was the signature song of Billy Golden, an American blackface comic who was a popular recording artist from the 1890s to the 1910s.
  • In 1909, the composer Charles Ives incorporated the tune, along with other vernacular American melodies, into his orchestral Symphony No. 2.[41][42]
  • According to survivors, "Turkey in the Straw" was among songs played by the band of the RMS Titanic at one point during the sinking on April 14 and 15, 1912.[43]
  • "Nigger Love a Watermelon" (1916) was recorded by Harry C. Browne.[44]
  • In 1920, American composer Leo Wood wrote the lyrics to Otto Bonnell's version of "Turkey in the Straw, A Rag-Time Fantasy" which was published by Leo Feist Inc., New York.
  • In early June 1922, Texas champion breakdown fiddler Eck Robertson, together with Henry C. Guililand, made America's first commercial recordings of fiddle music for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York City, featuring "Turkey in the Straw" as one of their four-song selections.
  • In 1925, American composer Joseph W. Clokey (stepfather of Gumby creator Art Clokey) wrote the choral ballad "The Musical Trust", which incorporated "Turkey in the Straw" (with a reference to ''Zip Coon'') and other traditional American tunes.
  • In 1926, "Turkey in the Straw" was recorded by the old-time band Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers with Riley Puckett.[45] The full melody is quoted in a fiddle and whistling solo in the "Skip to My Lou" number from the 1944 musical film Meet Me in St. Louis starring Judy Garland.[46]
  • Erno Dohnanyi used the tune (and also two other traditional American folk tunes) in his composition American Rhapsody (1953).
  • Woody Woodpecker plays his own variation of the song, with different verses altogether, in the 1960 short "Ozark Lark".
  • The melody is played by many ice cream trucks;[47] in Raymond Chandler's 1942 novel The High Window, the protagonist recounts "The Good Humor man went by in his little blue and white wagon, playing 'Turkey in the Straw' on his music box".
  • The instrumental "Hoedown" from Emerson Lake and Palmer's album Trilogy quotes the melody.
  • The 1990 film Back to the Future Part III featured this song, which was arranged by Alan Silvestri and ZZ Top.
  • The original Animaniacs series made this one more popular with their own take in "Wakko's America", to which Wakko uses the melody to showcase all the countries from the United States and capitals.
  • Adult Swim's television series Robot Chicken used the song as a part of their Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III special, in which Emperor Palpatine lists the lesser known Star Wars orders, 1–65.[48]
  • The Morning Musume song "Ningen Kankei No Way Way" uses the melody of tune (also known as the "Oklahoma Mixer" in Japan) during the dance break.
  • Barney & Friends had a rewritten version of this song which was sung in the direct-to-video films such as "Barney's Adventure Bus" and "Let's Go to the Farm", as well as the Season 5 episode "Howdy Friends!" and the Season 8 episode "Squares, Squares, Everywhere!".
  • Kidsongs featured this song as one of its selected songs for the music video story "Yankee Doodle Dandy". The song was later featured in a few episodes in the PBS television series The Kidsongs Television Show.
  • The indie game Lethal Company features a variation of the song in the style of an ice cream truck for its delivery vehicle which is used to deliver tools to the players.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Studwell, William E. (1997). The Americana Song Reader. Haworth Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-7890-0150-0.
  2. ^ a b c d Fuld, James J. (2000). The Book of World-famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk. Dover Publications. pp. 591–592. ISBN 978-0-486-41475-1.
  3. ^ Jabbour, Alan. "American Fiddle Tunes: From the Archive of Folk Song" (PDF). Library of Congress. p. 32.
  4. ^ a b Folk Songs of the Catskills. State University of New York Press. 1982. pp. 613–614. ISBN 978-0-87395-580-5.
  5. ^ Beisswenger, Drew (2016). Irish Fiddle Music from Counties Cork and Kerry. Mel Bay Publications. p. 83. ISBN 978-1-61911-012-0.
  6. ^ a b "Turkey in the Straw". The Traditional Tune Archive (The Fiddler's Companion). May 9, 2023.
  7. ^ Folk Songs of Old New England, by Eloise Hubbard Linscott (née Eloise Barrett Hubbard; 1897–1978), Macmillan Publishers (1939; reprinted 2011 by Dover Publications), pps. 101, 102, & 244; OCLC 30827924; ISBN 978-0-4862-7827-8
  8. ^ Matteson, Richard Jr. (2010). Bluegrass Picker's Tune Book. Mel Bay Publications. p. 222. ISBN 978-1-60974-552-3.
  9. ^ The Concise Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume 1. Taylor & Francis. 2013. pp. 374–375. ISBN 978-1-136-09562-7.
  10. ^ a b c d Roediger, David R. (2022). The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. Verso Books. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-83976-830-9.
  11. ^ Roberts, Brian (2017). Blackface Nation: Race, Reform, and Identity in American Popular Music, 1812-1925. University of Chicago Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-226-45164-0.
  12. ^ "Old Zip Coon". The Traditional Tune Archive. February 24, 2022.
  13. ^ "Coon". Online Etymological Dictionary.
  14. ^ "Dan Emmett – The Man Who Wrote "Dixie" by Wayne Erbsen". NativeGround.com. Archived from the original on March 17, 2010. Retrieved June 10, 2012.
  15. ^ "Blackface!". Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  16. ^ a b Birch, Thomas. "Zip Coon". University of Virginia. Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  17. ^ a b Dixon, G.W. "OLE ZIP COON". International Lyrics Playground. Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  18. ^ a b Emerson, Ken (1997). Doo-dah!: Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-684-81010-2.
  19. ^ Boy Scout Song Book. Boston, Mass.: C.C. Birchard and Co. 1920. pp. 48-49 – via Internet Archive. Old American tune.
  20. ^ Stevens, D. K.; Repper, Charles. "Old Zip Coon". Brigham Young University. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  21. ^ a b Boone, John (May 13, 2014). "The Ice Cream Truck Song Has a Racist History". E!. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  22. ^ "The Racist Roots of the Ice Cream Truck Song". Ebony.com. May 13, 2014. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  23. ^ Johnson, Theodore R III (May 11, 2014). "Recall That Ice Cream Truck Song? We Have Unpleasant News For You". NPR. Retrieved August 7, 2021.
  24. ^ "New artists now first heard on records". Hartford Courant. June 20, 1916. Retrieved May 18, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  25. ^ "Harry C. Browne – Nigger Love A Watermelon, Ha! Ha! Ha! / Old Dan Tucker". Discogs. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  26. ^ a b "Humorous". Intelligencer Journal. June 19, 1916. Retrieved May 18, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  27. ^ "Columbia Records Second List". The Clinton Morning Journal. May 23, 1925. Retrieved May 18, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  28. ^ Goldstein, Darra (2015). The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. Oxford University Press. p. 572. ISBN 978-0-19-931339-6.
  29. ^ "Dr. Demento to explain land on tube". Albany Democrat-Herald. February 19, 1975. Retrieved May 18, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  30. ^ "Recall That Ice Cream Truck Song? We Have Unpleasant News For You : Code Switch: NPR". NPR. March 6, 2023. Archived from the original on March 6, 2023. Retrieved March 7, 2023.
  31. ^ "The Racist Ice Cream Song Story on NPR.com Is Wrong". The New Republic. May 16, 2014. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  32. ^ "A New Ice Cream Truck Song To Replace 'Turkey In The Straw'". NPR. August 14, 2020. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  33. ^ Rimgaila Salys, The Musical Comedy Films of Grigorii Aleksandrov: Laughing Matters, p. 86, at Google Books
  34. ^ New Scientist 7 Jun 1979, p. 832, at Google Books
  35. ^ The New Illustrated Treasury of Disney Songs, p. 9, at Google Books
  36. ^ Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, p. 55, at Google Books
  37. ^ "Wakko's America". Animaniacs. Season 1. Episode 25. October 11, 1993. Fox Kids.
  38. ^ Shapiro, Craig (September 13, 1994). "Kidvid: No Case is Too Thorny for the Olsen Twins to Crack". The Virginian-Pilot.
  39. ^ Robison, Carson (January 1942). "1942 Turkey In The Straw Lyrics". History on the Net. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
  40. ^ "Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride", by Michael Wallis.
  41. ^ https://performingarts.georgetown.edu/Charles-Ives-America Georgetown University:"Charles Ives's America"
  42. ^ J. Peter Burkholder, '"Quotation" and Paraphrase in Ives' Second Symphony', 19th Century Music, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 3–25. [accessed July 26, 2013]
  43. ^ Fitch, Tad and J. Kent Layton, Bill Wormstedt (2012) On a Sea of Glass: The Life and Loss of the RMS Titanic. Gloucestershire: Amberly. p. 303
  44. ^ YouTube
  45. ^ Lornell, Kip; Russell, Tony; Pinson, Bob (July 1, 2006). "Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921–1942". American Music. 24 (2): 231. doi:10.2307/25046018. ISSN 0734-4392. JSTOR 25046018.
  46. ^ Skip to my Lou - "Meet Me in St. Louis" - Judy Garland - YouTube
  47. ^ San Diego Reader
  48. ^ Green, Seth (December 19, 2010). "Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III". Robot Chicken. Adult Swim.

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]