Turkey in the Straw

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"Turkey in the Straw"
Turkey in the straw (NYPL Hades-609605-1998230).jpg
Sheet music
Written1800s – 1830s
GenreTraditional Folk, Minstrel
Songwriter(s)Unknown; Traditional

"Turkey in the Straw" is an American folk song that first gained popularity in the early 19th century.

"Turkey in the Straw" was initially a popular tune for fiddle players as early as 1820. In the late 1870s until the 1930s, "Turkey in the Straw" was performed in minstrel shows by blackface actors and musicians.[1]

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, 333 Broadway, New York City, which itself is a contrafactum of the Irish ballad "The Old Rose Tree" which was published by at least 1795 in Great Britain.[2][3]


1st 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.

1st 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

1st 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 to an earlier tune by Bob Farrell who first performed them in a blackface act on August 11, 1834.

1st 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; 1st 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; 2nd 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 Hah
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

Racist versions[edit]

Zip Coon[edit]

Another contrafactum, Zip Coon, sung to the same tune as "Turkey in the Straw",[4] was popularized by Dixon and flourished during 1830s.[citation needed] 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.

The song gave rise to the blackface minstrel show character Zip Coon.[6]

Zip Coon has many different lyrical versions. Thomas Birch published a version in 1834,[7] while George Washington Dixon published a version called "Ole Zip Coon" with different lyrics circa 1835.[8] 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[7] and Dixon of General Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.[8] 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![4]

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.[4]

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).[9][10] 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.[11] It has since been named as the most racist song title in the United States for its use of watermelon stereotypes.[11][12][13]

The song was released in March 1916. It was performed by the silent movie actor Harry C. Browne.[14] It was released with "Old Dan Tucker" as a B-side.[15] The music for it was based upon "Turkey in the Straw" and performed with Browne singing baritone whilst playing a banjo with orchestral accompaniment.[16] 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".[16] Columbia Records continued to promote it up to 1925.[17] The song used racist stereotypes in it with Browne describing watermelons as "colored man's ice-cream".[18]

The version fell out of use in the later 20th century[citation needed] for its racist imagery. Radio DJ Dr. Demento, who had played older songs with racial overtones on the radio, refused to ever play this song because he said in 1975 that he felt that because of the title, it was always intended to be hateful.[19] In 2014, it was asserted that the jingle used by several ice cream vans in the United States was based upon this song. However this allegation is incorrect as the tune had been used before this song was created and was just using the "Turkey in the Straw" tune.[20] Nevertheless, because of the association, a number of American ice cream van companies ceased to use the "Turkey in the Straw" melody for their jingles.[21]

Performance history[edit]

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.[22]
  • In 1909 the composer Charles Ives incorporated the tune, along with other vernacular American melodies, into his orchestral Symphony No. 2.[23][24]
  • 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.[25]
  • "Nigger Love a Watermelon" (1916) parody was recorded by Harry C. Browne.[26]
  • 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 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.[27]
  • In 1928, this was used as the base melody in the famous early Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie.[28][29][30] The rendering of the tune in the cartoon is noted for being one of the first instances of successful synchronization in animated films.[31] The tune became prominent in Mickey'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.
  • In 1942 Carson Robison performed an anti-Axis Powers version of Turkey in the Straw.[32]
  • The full melody is quoted in a fiddle & whistling solo in the "Skip To My Lou" number from the 1944 musical film Meet Me in St. Louis starring Judy Garland.[33]
  • Erno Dohnanyi used the tune (and also two other traditional American folktunes) in his composition American Rhapsody (1953).
  • The melody is played by many ice cream trucks;[34] in 1942 Raymond Chandler's 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 series Animaniacs used the tune for "Wakko's America", in which Wakko names all fifty state capitals in the form of a song.[35][36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Studwell, William E. (1997). The Americana Song Reader. Haworth Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-7890-0150-0.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Alan Jabbour, "American Fiddle Tunes From the Archive of Folk Song" p. 32 https://www.loc.gov/folklife/LP/AmFiddleTunesLiner_opt.pdf
  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. Archived from the original on March 17, 2010. Retrieved June 10, 2012.
  6. ^ "Blackface!". Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  7. ^ a b Birch, Thomas. "Zip Coon". University of Virginia. Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  8. ^ a b Dixon, G.W. "OLE ZIP COON". International Lyrics Playground. Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  9. ^ Boy Scout Song Book. Boston, Mass.: C.C. Birchard and Co. 1920. pp. 48-49 – via Internet Archive. Old American tune.
  10. ^ Stevens, D. K.; Repper, Charles. "Old Zip Coon". Brigham Young University. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  11. ^ a b Boone, John (May 13, 2014). "The Ice Cream Truck Song Has a Racist History". E!. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  12. ^ "The Racist Roots of the Ice Cream Truck Song". Ebony.com. May 13, 2014. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  13. ^ "Recall That Ice Cream Truck Song? We Have Unpleasant News For You". NPR.org. Retrieved August 7, 2021.
  14. ^ "New artists now first heard on records". Hartford Courant. June 20, 1916. Retrieved May 18, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  15. ^ "Harry C. Browne – Nigger Love A Watermelon, Ha! Ha! Ha! / Old Dan Tucker". Discogs. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  16. ^ a b "Humorous". Intelligencer Journal. June 19, 1916. Retrieved May 18, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  17. ^ "Columbia Records Second List". The Clinton Morning Journal. May 23, 1925. Retrieved May 18, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  18. ^ Goldstein, Darra (2015). The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. Oxford University Press. p. 572. ISBN 0199313393.
  19. ^ "Dr. Demento to explain land on tube". Albany Democrat-Herald. February 19, 1975. Retrieved May 18, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  20. ^ / (May 16, 2014). "The Racist Ice Cream Song Story on NPR.com Is Wrong". The New Republic. Retrieved May 18, 2021.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  21. ^ "A New Ice Cream Truck Song To Replace 'Turkey In The Straw'". NPR. August 14, 2020. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  22. ^ "Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride", by Michael Wallis.
  23. ^ https://performingarts.georgetown.edu/Charles-Ives-America Georgetown University:"Charles Ives's America"
  24. ^ J. Peter Burkholder, '"Quotation" and Paraphrase in Ives' Second Symphony', 19th Century Music, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 3–25. [accessed July 26, 2013]
  25. ^ 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
  26. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97nqGtuNJmw
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ Rimgaila Salys, The Musical Comedy Films of Grigorii Aleksandrov: Laughing Matters, p. 86, at Google Books
  29. ^ New Scientist 7 Jun 1979, p. 832, at Google Books
  30. ^ The New Illustrated Treasury of Disney Songs, p. 9, at Google Books
  31. ^ Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, p. 55, at Google Books
  32. ^ Robison, Carson (January 1942). "1942 Turkey In The Straw Lyrics". History on the Net. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
  33. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=025BPtfJHcA
  34. ^ San Diego Reader
  35. ^ "Wakko's America". Animaniacs. Season 1. Episode 25. October 11, 1993. Fox Kids.
  36. ^ Shapiro, Craig (September 13, 1994). "Kidvid: No Case is Too Thorny for the Olsen Twins to Crack". The Virginian-Pilot.

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]