A different history lesson for the 4th of July

The 4th of July means so many things, patriotism, the flag of the Untied States of America (preferably not on fire), freedom from oppression, and of course breaking from the British to establish our independence.

Some may point out to you that July 2nd is the actual day that the Declaration of Independence was agreed on, but that July 4th was the day it was signed.

As my close and good friends enjoyed barbeque and great discussions about life (side note, while these friends and I agree on very little, I never feel afraid to talk openly with them about any topic because I know we have a mutual respect for one another) so any way, we were talking about one thing or another when the local ice cream truck rolled by. Some neighbors must have waved him down, because he was playing his music over and again for a long time.

It got annoying, someone said something about the title of the song. I said “It’s turkey in the straw.” To which the three looked at me like I was crazy. Then they sang the words they had learned at 4H summer camp. It was something about my ears being too long.

I was surprised. I had never heard the words sung like that, but it was in unison and very clear they knew every word, including the middle school dirty version.

When I got home that night I had to look it up.

It turns out the song has a history I never would have guessed. And while I always associate that tune with ice cream goodies, I’ll now remember the following facts as well. It is an appropriate tune to appreciate how far we have come as a nation in 230 years.

"Turkey in the Straw" is a well known American 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 and George Nichols. The tune was sung to different lyrics, and was called "Zip Coon". This version was first published between 1829 and 1834 in either New York or Baltimore. All three of the above performers claimed to have written the song, and this dispute is not resolved.


Original Version
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 Version
Turkey in the hay, in the hay, in the hay.
Turkey in the straw, in straw, in the straw,
Pick up your fiddle and rosin your bow,
And put on a tune called Turkey in the straw.

Alternate Version
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

"Turkey in the Straw" is still popular today among street fiddlers. It can be heard in many movie sound tracks; the song was already public domain by the start of sound film, so it was extensively used. 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. A more recent example is the 1990 film Back to the Future Part III, which takes place in 1885.

Many ice cream trucks have a recorded soundtrack which plays a segment of the A strain of the tune over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over againand over and over and over and over again.
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