Thursday, October 17, 1991

On This Day (1891): “Turkey in the Straw” hit #1

Turkey in the Straw

Billy Golden

Writer(s): authorship disputued (see lyrics here)

First Charted: October 17, 1891

Peak: 17 PM (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.32 video, 0.01 streaming

Awards (1834 version):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Billy Golden):

Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“Turkey in the Straw” has a long and confusing history. Its earliest ties are to a British song “The Old Rose Tree,” which was published in 1795. The fiddle tune “Natchez Under the Hill” is then thought to have derived from “The Old Rose Tree” WK and may have been performed by Bob Farrell as early as August 11, 1834. WK

Farrell and another singer named George Washington Dixon also popularized a song in the 1930s called “Zip Coon” which was based on the same melody. Both of them, as well as George Nicholls, have laid claim to the song’s authorship, but that has never been resolved. WK

“Turkey in the Straw,” which used the same melody as “Zip Coon,” was published on March 29, 1834. On July 12, 1861, Dan Bryant copyrighted “Turkey in the Straw” with new lyrics set to “Zip Coon.” WK Daniel Decatur Emmett, known for writing “Dixie” and “Polly Wolly Doodle,” later gave the song new comic lyrics and it became popular in minstrel shows. SS

The song subsequently became associated with “stereotypes of rural southerners and westerners, mostly white, doing square dances on farms and in mountain hollers.” LC Unfortunately, it has also been marked by racist lyrics. LC Carl Sandburg called this “the classical American rural tune” in his 1927 book American Songbag. SS In a May 1979 article for the Journal of Country Music, Simon J. Bronner said it “should be considered as a significant part of the history of country music.” SS

In 1891, Billy Golden, a popular vaudeville comedian, was the first to chart with the song. His version was characterized by his “energetic delivery of the lyrics with a big guffawing, laugh.” SS He charted six times from 1891 to 1911, including a new version of the song which hit #4 in 1905. The 1891 recording was his only #1. PM There were also chart versions by Vess Ossman (#8, 1905), Gid Tanner & His Skillets (#14 PM, 1926) and Carson Robison (#22 PM, 1942). PM

“Turkey in the Straw” would also become the basis for Otto Bonnell’s “Ragtime Fantasy.” LC It was also famously used in the 1928 Disney animated short Steamboat Willie, which introduced the characters of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.


First posted 9/6/2023.

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