HomeSocial IssuesThat Familiar Ice Cream Truck Song? Yeah It’s the Most Racist Song Ever (Video)

That Familiar Ice Cream Truck Song? Yeah It’s the Most Racist Song Ever (Video)

With summer upon us and as we all look forward to that familiar sound of the friendly neighborhood ice cream man coming by to sell us overpriced dairy products–as we watch our children flock to him to satisfy their appetite for something to offset the blistering heat of the day and as that iconic tune plays…wait, what is that tune called, anyway?

Oh, that’s right–”N*gger Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!” Wait, what? That’s right, folks–the song we all know and love–the one that signifies that frozen confections are on their way–is one of the most racist songs ever written! Released in 1916 by Columbia Records, the catchy tune plays on the “watermelon-eating” stereotype surrounding African Americans.

The melody itself is nearly as old as the country itself, adding racist lyrics to what was originally a 19th-century melody “Turkey in the Straw,” which was based on the traditional British song, “The Old Rose Tree.” In the late 1820s, lyrics were added and the song was retitled, “Zip Coon” and used in what right-wingers would call “traditional” blackface minstrel shows (because bigotry is a “traditional value, don’tchaknow?).

However, the new version of the song just wasn’t racist enough! New lyrics were written, incorporating the general theme of the wildly popular “Coon Cards,” seen below:

download (8) 1904_Watermelon_Coon_Card_1

 

And thus, “N*gger Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!” was born. The ice cream association was born soon after, as ice cream parlors regularly played the popular minstrel tunes of the day.

After World War II, ice cream trucks became a regular means of distributing tasty treats to people all over, and a music box was installed to announce that they were coming. In an effort to pay homage to the ice cream parlor, the popular minstrel tunes were included–and, voila! Racism lives on today through your friendly neighborhood ice cream truck!

Does this mean that we should boycott ice cream? Probably not. It’s unlikely that your neighborhood ice cream guy, the children, or very many who encounter the tune even know its origins. Should we raise awareness of the issue? Most definitely! Ask your local ice cream guy to use a different song.

Tell people the origins of the familiar tune that has come to signify the arrival of the ice cream man. It is likely that your local provider of chilly treats will be so horrified that he or she will make a few changes on his or her own.

About John Prager

John Prager
John Prager is an unfortunate Liberal soul who lives uncomfortably in the middle of a Conservative hellscape and likes to refer to himself as an "island of reason in a sea of insanity." While he is not a fan of politicians, period, he has developed a deep-seated hatred for the bigotry, fear mongering, and lies of the Right Wing. John also works as a warden at one of Barry Soetoro's FEMA re-education camps and as a HAARP weather control coordinator. He can be reached at americanlesionx@gmail.com if you have any questions or comments.

31 comments

  1. Where the civil war mentality is alive and well where I live, unfortunately I don’t think that song will go away by choice or influence of people who know better.

  2. A little to politically correct here, John. Although I abhor racism, this same tune is also used when “Yakko sings the 50 States” in the Animaniacs cartoon! How about the consideration that not only does this generation NOT know the tunes origins; but even better, has now associated it with something the furthest away from hate… Ice Cream!

  3. Oh, come on. Saying the ice-cream-truck jingle is “really” a racist song is a bit like saying America’s National Anthem “really” goes “Oh say can you see/Any bedbugs on me?/If there are, pick a few/’Cause they all come from you”, or like saying that the melody for “On Top Of Old Smokey” is “really” to a song that goes “On top of spaghetti/All covered with cheese/I lost my poor meatball/When somebody sneezed”.

    • This.

      Because otherwise, everything in South Park is REALLY about what South Park says it’s about. And we don’t want to go there. Really.

  4. actually it is called Turkey in the Straw, and it has no lyrics.

  5. What an absolute crock of shit! This is “Turkey in the straw’. people have added their own words to music forever. Not only that, but I have NEVER heard that song played by Ice Cream trucks in Oklahoma. There are so many terrible racist things going on in America and you pick this crap! Cover something and least slightly news worthy next time, OK?

  6. I usually really like this site but in this case, you are really bottom feeding for no apparent reason. As you did correctly point out, the tune is “Turkey in the Straw” usually designated as a ‘folk song’. Many people have used their won words on top of this melody. Undobtedly there were some racist songs. I don’t remember the ice cream trucks in the 1950′s in my home town using this melody. Today, the ice cream trucks that come by my house play the melody for the 1930′s song “There once was a Union Maid.”

  7. I’ve always known it as “Turkey in the Straw” and nothing else in my 61 years on this Earth.

  8. Our ice cream trucks play “the Entertainer”

  9. Seeing many upset replies here.

    As mentioned, this song is originally Turkey in the Straw. However, the tune played in Ice Cream shops, and later on trucks, was the abhorrently racist version mentioned here. So, though the melody has a deep history, its association with ice cream parlors came from the minstrel tune mentioned here.

  10. It is still an innocent song. If you’re singing the racist lyrics, then it’s a racist song in your hands if not presented for educational purposes.

    It’s pleasing that its adulteration at the hands of bigots has faded away into obscurity. The lyrics are long gone and several generations have effectively reclaimed it as an innocent song.

    To try and paint it as a horribly racist song now with a sensationalizing headline is dumb and undercuts the scholarship of chronicling its bastardizations in the first place. Do bring up its previous associations under different names and how it came to be used but don’t go all NY Post front page about it.

    From what I could comprehend, the lyrics are rather weaksauce as racist propaganda goes anyway. I’ve heard plenty worse in songs written in just the last 30 years.

  11. While that song is racist beyond belief, it’s a bit ridiculous asking the parlor to play a different song. I don’t think I’ve met a single person who has any idea that the “ice cream song” is absurdly racist, and not only that, but before I read this, I haven’t had one thought about how the song is racist, neither will the ordinary person who hears it.

  12. VinaigretteGirl

    A tune without lyrics is a tune. “The tune played in Ice Cream shops, and later on trucks, was the abhorrently racist version mentioned here.” And yet until this article dragged this up from the depths I doubt very much that more than a handful of the 313 million people in the US had any notion that (a) this song had been picked out to be singularly made into a racist song or (b) had a reputation 80 years ago as a racist song associated with ice cream parlours.

    Now, I never liked the tune because from my childhood (I am nearly 57) it was associated with false bonhomie, it was scratchy and repetitive, and it bored me to many near-death experiences – but singularly racist? The only lyrics I ever knew were the inane two lines: “turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay.” And I never heard it associated with ice cream trucks, parlours, or any other ice cream-related enterprise even in Texas and Oklahoma, where I lived as a child for mercifully few years.

    Ice cream trucks in all the places I lived in used one of two tunes: that bit of Col. Bogey immortalised by the line “Hitler/has only got one ball”, or a couple of bars of the Cornish Flower Dance. Pile in on those.

  13. It’s only the racist song if it includes the racist lyrics.

    The racist version may have been played at ice cream parlors, but once it’s taken back down to the original instrumental, it’s “Turkey in the Straw”.

    When they buy the tapes for the ice cream trucks, it’s labelled “Turkey in the Straw”.

    It would be one thing if you simply pointed out the disgusting racism that turned it into an ice cream truck tune, but by implying that the usage of the song (almost certainly almost entirely by people who DON’T know the racist chapter in the tune’s history), you’re just being as sensationalist and hate-mongering as FOX’s propaganda.

  14. This was just an excuse for this writer to take a stab at the right. So transparent!

  15. Do your ears hang low, do they wobble to and fro?
    Can you tie them in a knot, can you tie them in a bow?
    Can you throw them over your shoulder, like a continental soldier?
    Do you ears hang low?

  16. I always thought it was “Pop goes the Weasel.”

  17. HOW was this played in ice cream parlors? The first 8-disk jukebox, with a turntable for each record, wasn’t released until 1927, at which point this would have been an 11 year-old recording. The first record changer using one turntable was released in 1928. Before then, if an ice cream parlor wanted to play records, they’d have to hire someone to do nothing else but change records. Plus, it could only be heard by those sitting close to it, since they didn’t yet have amplification. They’d be better off hiring a piano player, or buying a player piano or nickelodeon with a roll changer, or a multi-disk music box. By the time that it was feasible to play this recording, it would have been more likely that they would be playing newer music instead. And notice that this wasn’t re-released at any point, and certainly wasn’t included in early 33 RPM albums, which you’d think it would if anyone had any fond memories of listening to this while eating ice cream.

    Now, in post-WWII America, just before the first ice cream trucks with music boxes appeared, what is the chance that this ancient recording would still (if ever) be associated in any way with ice cream parlors? Minstrel was out of fashion by the 1930s. Why would they still be playing it, if they ever were? Would 1940s teens coming in for an ice cream soda have wanted to hear this instead of Frank Sinatra?

    And if the early music boxes on ice cream trucks were all playing minstrel songs, where are the other tunes? Or is it just coincidence that the other minstrel songs were to the tune of popular children’s songs like London Bridge or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, or sounded exactly like Good Humor’s or Red Wing’s jingles? And just what marketing genius would think that the perfect music to attract post-WII children wanting ice cream would be a 1916 minstrel tune, rather than a popular children’s song?

  18. This is the most ridiculous thing I have read in a while. “Uh oh, nothing to talk about… lets grab the shovel and dig up issues that are decades old” I’m tired of feeling that as a white man I cant be proud of who I am without the racist card being shoved in my face. Racism is not the issue in this country that it used to be. Stop digging this shit up and let it die off. I cannot and WILL NOT ask my ice cream man to change the song because 4 assholes 80 years ago wrote racist lyrics to a song. That’s not equality or justice or brotherly love, That is stupidity and shame on anyone who falls for this garbage and bothers some poor guy trying to make a living selling ice cream out of a truck. His life sucks enough and doesn’t need you getting in his business trying to tell him hes a racist for playing the ice cream song. Whats next? bothering your kid’s school janitor because he wears a belt and those were used to beat slaves? Get a life.

  19. This is one of the dumbest articles I’ve ever read.

  20. So, PC outrage over nothing then.

  21. I have to agree. I never knew there were racist lyrics until this article. Maybe this should be filed under the heading of letting sleeping dogs lie.

  22. The level of stupidity in pointing this out is truly remarkable.

  23. It’s such a shame that people waste precious time trying to point out racism through any avenue.

  24. I thought this was funny. I enjoyed listening to that awful, racist version of Turkey in the Straw. Have a sense of humor ppl, the headline pretty much demands it.

  25. I think someone is board, and wants to start a new race forum!! Because in this day and age it’s not over used, not at all!! Soo when do we pull kill whitey?

  26. Those aren’t the lyrics to the song. These are.

    Turkey in the Straw:

    As I was a-goin’
    On down the road
    With a tired team
    And a heavy load
    I cracked my whip
    And the leader sprung
    I says day-day
    To the wagon tongue

    Turkey in the straw
    Turkey in the hay
    Turkey in the straw
    Turkey in the hay
    Roll ‘em up and twist ‘em up
    A high tuck a-haw
    And hit ‘em up a tune called
    Turkey in the Straw

    Went out to milk
    And I didn’t know how
    I milked the goat
    Instead of the cow
    A monkey sittin’
    On a pile of straw
    A winkin’ at
    His mother-in-law

    Turkey in the straw
    Turkey in the hay
    Turkey in the straw
    Turkey in the hay
    Roll ‘em up and twist ‘em up
    A high tuck a-haw
    And hit ‘em up a tune called
    Turkey in the Straw

    I came to the river
    And I couldn’t get across
    So I paid five dollars
    For a big bay hoss
    Well, he wouldn’t go ahead
    And he wouldn’t stand still
    So he went up and down
    Like an old saw mill

    Turkey in the straw
    Turkey in the hay
    Turkey in the straw
    Turkey in the hay
    Roll ‘em up and twist ‘em up
    A high tuck a-haw
    And hit ‘em up a tune called
    Turkey in the Straw

    Did you ever go fishin’
    On a warm summer day
    When all the fish
    Were swimmin’ in the bay
    With their hands in their pockets
    And their pockets in their pants
    Did you ever see a fishie
    Do the Hootchy-Kootchy Dance?

    Turkey in the straw
    Turkey in the hay
    Turkey in the straw
    Turkey in the hay
    Roll ‘em up and twist ‘em up
    A high tuck a-haw
    And hit ‘em up a tune called
    Turkey in the Straw

    Just because some “people” (and I use the term loosely) set racist lyrics to it, it doesn’t mean that the original song is racist. There isn’t one solitary racist lyric in the originals. That’s just one of the stupidest things I’ve heard all week, and I’ve been keeping an eye on those pesky politicians…

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