"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. 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 songwriter Daniel Decatur Emmett is sometimes erroneously credited as the song's author.
"Turkey in the Straw" has a vocal range of an octave and a minor sixth (one half-step wider range than the Star Spangled Banner, itself considered difficult in range for the amateur). 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 is a catchy tune that has many different lyrical versions. The earliest lyrics under the name "Turkey in the Straw" were written by Dan Bryant (head of Bryant's Minstrels) and published in 1861. The words were set to new music, with the "Zip Coon" 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 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, 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.
"Turkey in the Straw" is still popular today among street fiddlers and ice cream trucks. It is a playable song in the popular 2008 video game Wii Music for the Wii console. 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. 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, actor Roscoe Ates sings "Turkey in the Straw".
References in Pop Culture
- 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 called Sharon, Lois & Bram's 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 U.S. 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.
- Fuld, James (1966). The Book of World Famous Music, Classical, Popular and Folk.
- Turkey in the Straw
- Old Zip Coon
- "Zip Coon" for President: An article on the song's historical basis
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