"Turkey in the Straw"
is a well-known American folk song
Folk music is an English term encompassing both traditional folk music and contemporary folk music. The term originated in the 19th century. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted by mouth, as music of the lower classes, and as music with unknown composers....
dating from the early 19th century.
The song's tune was first popularized in the late 1820s and early 1830s by blackface
Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used in minstrel shows, and later vaudeville, in which performers create a stereotyped caricature of a black person. The practice gained popularity during the 19th century and contributed to the proliferation of stereotypes such as the "happy-go-lucky darky...
performers, notably George Washington Dixon
George Washington Dixon was an American singer, stage actor, and newspaper editor. He rose to prominence as a blackface performer after performing "Coal Black Rose", "Zip Coon", and similar songs...
, Bob Farrell
Bob Farrell was a New York City-based blackface minstrel singer, best known for introducing the song "Zip Coon" at the Bowery Theatre in 1834, which later gave the tune to "Turkey in the Straw", one of the most famous and widespread songs of the era. "Zip Coon"'s authorship is disputed with George...
and George Nichols
Blessed George Nichols was an English Catholic martyr.-Education:Born at Oxford in 1550, George Nichols entered Brasenose College, a constituent college of the University of Oxford, in 1564 or 1565 where he received his B.A. degree in 1571. He went on to become an usher and a teacher at St...
. 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. All of the above performers claimed to have written the song, and the dispute is not resolved. Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...
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. It has many different lyrical versions. The earliest lyrics under the name "Zip Coon" were written by Dan Bryant (head of Bryant's Minstrels
Bryant's Minstrels was a blackface minstrel troupe that performed in the mid-19th century, primarily in New York City. The troupe was led by the O'Neill brothers from upstate New York, who took the stage name Bryant....
) 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.
- 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
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...
, versions about fishing and one with nonsense
Nonsense is a communication, via speech, writing, or any other symbolic system, that lacks any coherent meaning. Sometimes in ordinary usage, nonsense is synonymous with absurdity or the ridiculous...
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.
- Recorded for the 1978 debut album of children's entertainers Sharon, Lois & Bram
Sharon, Lois & Bram is the name of a Canadian children's musical trio composed of Sharon Hampson , Lois Ada Lilienstein , and Bramwell "Bram" Morrison .-Group formation:Sharon Hampson, Lois Lillenstein, and Bram Morrison began their singing...
titled One Elephant, Deux Éléphants
One Elephant, Deux Éléphants is the first album by popular children's entertainers Sharon, Lois & Bram, originally released in 1978. Throughout their career, the album has been re-released many times under various titles.-Releases:...
and featured on their long-running children's television series on Nickelodeon
Nickelodeon, often simply called Nick and originally named Pinwheel, is an American children's channel owned by MTV Networks, a subsidiary of Viacom International. The channel is primarily aimed at children ages 7–17, with the exception of their weekday morning program block aimed at preschoolers...
called The Elephant Show
The Elephant Show is a Canadian children's television show from 1984 until 1988.-Summary and Highlights:...
WWE used turkey in the straw as the theme for The Gobbledy Gooker
- Fuld, James (1966). The Book of World Famous Music, Classical, Popular and Folk.