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Turkey in the Straw

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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." Originally a tune for fiddle players, it was first popularized in the late 1820s and early 1830s by blackface performers, notably George Washington Dixon, Bob Farrell and George Nichols.



This version mentions tuckahoe (Peltandra virginica, also called green arrow arum), an edible wetland plant with long petioles:

One traditional version has a chorus with these lyrics:

Another goes:

Here, "Reubens" refers to farmers.

And another:

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.

The Wiggles use these lyrics:

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:

Harry C. Browne recorded a version in 1916 called "Nigger Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!". 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. The first goes:

Followed by:

In Barney & Friends they used these lyrics:

"Zip Coon"

Another song, "Zip Coon", sung to the same tune as "Turkey in the Straw", 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.

"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.


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

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 and Dixon of General Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. When the Mexican–American War broke out, Dixon published a new version of "Zip Coon" with updated lyrics pertaining to the war:

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' Uncle Remus tales, Song of the South.

Modern uses

  • "Turkey in the Straw" was Billy the Kid's favorite song.
  • 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 April 15, 1912.
  • In 1928, this was used as the base melody in the famous early Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie. The rendering of the tune in the cartoon is noted for being one of the first instances of successful synchronization in animated films. The song was used again in the 1935 cartoon The Band Concert.
  • The melody is quoted in Charles Ives' Second Symphony.
  • The song is the base to Wakko's America on the hit children's TV show Animaniacs.
  • A looped segment of the song is used during the Astro Chicken minigame in Space Quest III, and subsequently used in later Space Quest games as easter eggs or whenever Astro Chicken is shown.
  • The song is one of the selectable songs in Wii Music.
  • The animated adaptation of Rosie's Walk uses "Turkey in the Straw" as incidental music.
  • 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; 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 song is played in the MSX game Mouser (1983).
  • In the episode of Sonic Boom entitled "Don't Judge Me", during Stick's time on the witness stand during Sonic's Trial she stated that Dr. Eggman got songs stuck in people's heads. Afterwards, she sings "Well, if frogs had wings and snakes had hair, And automobiles went flyin' thro' the air...".
  • The song "Verishuvi" of the Japanese Idol group Sakura Gakuin use this melody as opening and interlude.
  • The instrumental "Hoedown" from Emerson Lake and Palmer's album Trilogy quotes the melody.
  • References

    Turkey in the Straw Wikipedia