Old Zip Coon/Turkey in the Straw

Turkey in the Straw Zip Coon sheet music

Q: Which song came first, “Turkey in the Straw” or “Old Zip Coon?”
~ Martina Lowden, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

A: It is difficult determine an original date for either song, but most sources say that “Old Zip Coon” came before “Turkey in the Straw.” The tune was popular in the 1830s, and the melody still remains popular. The book Folk Music: A Regional Exploration tackles the question by looking at when sheet music for the songs was produced. The earliest sheet music for “Old Zip Coon” dates to 1834. The song “Turkey in the Straw” is said to be borrowed from it (Cohen, 2005 p. 210).

The character of Zip Coon, popularized by George Washington Dixon, was a contemporary, or rival if you will, of Thomas Rice’s character Jim Crow. There is no evidence to indicate Zip Coon predated Jim Crow (Boston Post October 31, 1833 page 2).

Although some sources, (The New Republic, “That Viral Story About the Racist Ice Cream Song is Wrong”, and NPR, “Recall that Ice Cream truck song? We have unpleasant news for you”), say “Turkey in the Straw” dates back to the early 1800s, unfortunately, neither provides sources that validate the claim. The Library of Congress supports the position that “Turkey in the Straw” derived its origin from “Old Zip Coon” (Library of Congress). According to the Kendall Whaling Museum, the lyrics for "Turkey in the Straw" were written by Daniel Webster O'Brien, (also known as Dan Bryant), a minstrel performer in 1861 (Frank, 2000, p. 5).

On another note, The New Republic article’s claim that “Turkey in the Straw” is not a racist song (because it lacks racist lyrics) is questionable.  It was a popular black-faced minstrel show song and one of the most popular sheet music covers for the song is dominated by an image of a caricatured black man.

In sum, it appears that most credible sources date “Old Zip Coon” as the earlier song. “Turkey in the Straw” is adapted from it. Here are the lyrics to the two songs.

Old Zip Coon

O ole Zip Coon he is a larned skoler,
O ole Zip Coon he is a larned skoler,
O ole Zip Coon he is a larned skoler,
Sings posum up a gum tree an coony in a holler,
possum up a gum tree, coony on a stump,
possum up a gum tree, coony on a stump,
possum up a gum tree, coony 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 zip a duden day.
O Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.
Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.

O it's 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 possum heel, widout any butter.

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

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

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

I tell you what will happin den, now bery soon,
De Nited States Bank will be blone to de moon;
Dare General Jackson, will him lampoon,
An de bery nex President, will be Zip Coon.

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

And wen Zip Coon our President shall be,
He make all de little Coons sing possum up a tree;
O how de little Coons, will dance an sing,
Wen he tie dare tails togedder, cross de lim dey swing.

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

Now mind wat you arter, you tarnel kritter Crocket,
You shant go head widout ole Zip, he is de boy to block it;
Zip shall be President, Crocket shall be vice,
An den dey two togedder, will hab de tings nice.

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

I hab many tings to tork about, but don't know which come first,
So here de toast to old Zip Coon, before he gin to rust;
May he hab de pretty girls, like de King ob ole,
To sing dis song so many times, 'fore he turn to mole.

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

Turkey in the Straw

As I was a-goin'
On down the road
With a tired team
And a heavy load
I cracked my whip
And the leader sprung
I says day-day
To the wagon tongue.

Turkey in the straw,
Turkey in the straw,
Roll 'em up and twist 'em up
A high tuck a-haw
And hit '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.

Turkey in the straw
Turkey in the straw
Roll 'em up and twist 'em up
A high tuck a-haw
And hit 'em up a tune called
'Turkey in the Straw'.

I came to the river
And I couldn't get across
So I paid five dollars
For a big bay hoss
Well, he wouldn't go ahead
And he wouldn't stand still
So he went up and down
Like an old saw mill.

Turkey in the straw,
Turkey in the straw,
Roll 'em up and twist 'em up
A high tuck a-haw
And hit 'em up a tune called
'Turkey in the Straw'.

Did you ever go fishin'
On a warm summer day
When all the fish
Were swimmin' in the bay
With their hands in their pockets
And their pockets in their pants
Did you ever see a fishie
Do the Hootchy-Kootchy Dance?

Turkey in the straw,
Turkey in the straw,
Roll 'em up and twist 'em up
A high tuck a-haw
And hit 'em up a tune called
'Turkey in the Straw'.

Franklin Hughes
Jim Crow Museum
May 2018 

Resources

Boston Post, Boston Massachusetts, October 31, 1833 page 2
Retrieved from: https://www.newspapers.com/image/56417024/?terms=%22zip%2Bcoon%22

Cohen, N. (2005). Folk music: A regional exploration. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=DqN_-kyCJFcC&pg=PA210&dq=%22old+zip+coon%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj09NGJv-LaAhVH2oMKHWyMDfsQ6AEIKzAB#v=onepage&q=%22turkey%20in%20the%20straw%22&f=false

Frank, S. (2000). Kendall Whaling Museum Monograph Series No. 12, "Musick on the Brain." Kendall Whaling Museum, Sharon, Massachusetts.
Retrieved from: https://www.whalingmuseum.org/sites/default/files/pdf/KWM%20Monorgaph%20Series%20No%2012_Musick%20on%20the%20Brain.pdf

Johnson III, T. (2014). NPR Code Switch, “Recall that ice cream truck song? We have unpleasant news for you.” Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/05/11/310708342/recall-that-ice-cream-truck-song-we-have-unpleasant-news-for-you

Library of Congress, Turkey in the Straw Sheet Music, Wood, Leo 1882-1929, Published 1920, Leo Feist, Inc. Rhode Island.
Retrieved from: http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/ihas-natlib/loc.award.rpbaasm.1133/default.html

McWhorter, J. (2014). The New Republic, “That viral story about the racist ice cream song is wrong.”
Retrieved from: https://newrepublic.com/article/117792/racist-ice-cream-song-story-nprcom-wrong