Happy Thanksgiving: "Turkey in the Straw," Donald Duck and Some Messed-Up Minstrel Shit

Categories: Listen Up!


Surely the same as thousands - millions? - of other American children, this 1935 Walt Disney cartoon was Rocks Off's first exposure to the spirited American folk melody "Turkey in the Straw." And probably to Donald Duck, making one of his first onscreen appearances ever - note the elongated bill and ample ass acreage. (He was that feisty from the jump, apparently.) Hats off to whoever integrated Donald's piccolo "Turkey" into Rossini's William Tell Overture so well, too.

Curious, Rocks Off did some research into the origins of "Turkey in the Straw" and couldn't turn up much beyond that the melody dates to the early 19th century and there are about two million different sets of lyrics. (It's also been heard on The Simpsons at least once.) However, he did discover some pretty messed-up shit: "Turkey" shares its melody with "Zip Coon," an early minstrel song popularized by blackface performer George Washington Dixon in the 1820s. Supposedly, Zip Coon was the dandified city cousin to a cornpone country character whose name you probably have heard: Jim Crow.

Zip Coon remained a stock minstrel character for most of the 1800s, and minstrelsy was one of the chief ways working-class Americans (and below) entertained themselves - think of it as an early version of YouTube - so plenty of pictures survive on the Internet. Rocks Off finds them in extremely poor taste, but as cultural artifacts they're still kind of fascinating. Just think: It only took us about 150 years to go from this to electing a black president. Happy Thanksgiving, America. And before you go...

 

Mighty fine bluegrass version of "Turkey" by Berline, Crary & Hickman. Yeah, Rocks Off doesn't know who the hell that is either, or he didn't until Googling them - he never gets tired of using that as a verb - and it turns out they have quite the pedigree, from Bill Monroe on down. - Chris Gray

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