Bards Old Time Fiddle Tunebook Supplement/Turkey in the Straw

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Sheet music cover for "Zip Coon", 1830s.

"Turkey in the Straw" is a well-known American folk music|folk song dating from the early 19th century. The song's tune was first popularized in the late 1820s and early 1830s by blackface performers, notably George Washington Dixon, Bob Farrell (minstrel singer)|Bob Farrell and George Nichols. Another song, "Zip Coon", was sung to the same tune. This version was first published between 1829 and 1834 in either New York or Baltimore, Maryland|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.[1]

Lyrics[edit | edit source]

"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. It has many different lyrical versions. The earliest lyrics under the name "Zip Coon" were written by Dan Bryant (head of Bryant's Minstrels) and published in 1861. The words were set to new music, with the "Turkey in the Straw" tune added at the end. The chorus as first published by Dan Bryant goes:

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.

Contemporary uses[edit | edit source]

"Turkey in the Straw" is still popular today among busking|street fiddlers and ice cream vans. It is a playable song in the popular 2008 in video gaming|2008 video game Wii Music for the Wii video game console|console. It can be heard in many movie sound tracks as well as in many Children's music albums; the song was already public domain by the start of sound film, so it was extensively used in movies. In animated cartoons it is commonly used for suggesting farms or rural life, or old fashioned country people. Perhaps the first use of the tune in an animated cartoon soundtrack was in Steamboat Willie. The popular children's song "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" is typically sung to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw".

George Gobel sang this version on TV:

Oh, I had a little chicken and she wouldn't lay an egg,
So I poured some hot water on her left-hand leg,
Then I poured some hot water on her right-hand leg,
Now my little chicken laid a hard-boiled egg!

In the acclaimed 1930 film Billy the Kid (1930 film)|Billy the Kid, actor Roscoe Ates sings "Turkey in the Straw".

References in pop culture[edit | edit source]

  • In John Kennedy Toole's comic novel A Confederacy of Dunces, Ignatius J. Reilly refers to the song as "a discordant abomination", and remarks that "veneration" of it "is at the very root of our current dilemma."
  • Recorded for the 1978 debut album of children's entertainers Sharon, Lois & Bram titled One Elephant, Deux Éléphants and featured on their long-running children's television series on Nickelodeon (TV channel)|Nickelodeon called The Elephant Show.
  • In The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles episode "Mystery of the Blues", a pianist plays around 4 different versions of the song, including straight-time, Caribbean, African, and his own twist. The whole band then plays it in jazz form.
  • The song is used as Barney Stinson's ringtone in the How I Met Your Mother episode entitled "Rabbit or Duck" (originally aired February 8, 2010).
  • The tune is played by an ice-cream van in season four, episode one ("Boys of Summer"), of The Wire. In the audio commentary, writer David Simon says that the sound is ubiquitous in West Baltimore during the summer.
  • In a segment of Animaniacs, Wakko sings a song to the tune of "Turkey In The Straw", naming all the US states and their capitals, in response to a question in a Jeopardy! clue during school. However, he failed to state his response in the form of a question, and lost "money".
  • An instrumental version of the song is performed by the Hill Valley Festival Band (played by ZZ Top) in 1885 in Back to the Future Part III.
  • It is used in the horror film Carver (film)|Carver in a few on the murder scenes.
  • Homer Simpson hums along to the tune in The Simpsons episode Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious.
  • It is the first song played in the music class of the "Bully" Scholarship Edition video game.
  • The 2009 song "What Do You Do?" by Mickey Avalon uses the melody of this song throughout its entire duration.
  • JibJab used the tune for their 2005 Year In Review, called "2-0-5" and sung by a cut-out version of George W. Bush.

References in classical music[edit | edit source]

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

See also[edit | edit source]

  • Coon song
  • Unsquare Dance

References[edit | edit source]

  1. [1]

Further reading[edit | edit source]

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

External links[edit | edit source]