Thursday, April 25, 2013

Two Versions Of The Song "Old Zip Coon" (sound file & lyrics)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Revised February 6, 2018

This is Part I of a two part series on the song "Old Zip Coon" and the song "Turkey In The Straw". Both of these songs use the same tune.

Click for the post on the song "Turkey In The Straw".

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, historical, and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Click for a post about Zip Coon character & characterization.

" '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,[1] Bob Farrell[1] and George Nichols.[citation needed] 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.[2]"...
Other online articles that I've read indicate that "Old Zip Coon" was composed before "Turkey In The Straw". Read, for example, the quotes about these songs that are found on the Mudcat folk music forum, found below.

(Example #1) as posted by rich r. Date: 04 Dec 98 - 10:34 PM
"'Zip Coon' which was popular in the 1830's was one of the earliest pieces of music used extensively by black-face singers before the advent of the minstrel shows. The Zip Coon character was an urban dandy, the complete opposite of the Jim Crow character who was depicted as rural. The unofficial garb for Zip Coon included a blue long-tailed jacket, a frilly lacey front shirt, watch fob and jewelry. At least 3 different performers claimed to have written the song. George Washington Dixon who is mentioned on the cover of sheet music published by J.L. Hewitt & Co. sometime between 1830 and 1835 ( a reprint of this sheet music can be found in: Popular Songs of Nineteenth-Century America by Richard Jackson, Dover Publications 1976). George Nichols who was an early blackface clown in circuses. Bob Farrell, who was actually known as "Zip Coon", and is known to have performed it in New York in 1834. Below are the lyrics as contained in the sheet music. MOst of the odd spellings are in the original and I will try not to add too many new ones.


1. O ole Zip Coon he is a larned skoler
O ole Zip Coon he is a larned skoler
O ole Zip Coon he is a larned skoler
Sings possum up a gum tree an coony in a holler
Possum up a gum tree, coony on a stump
Possum up a gum tree, coony on a stump
Possum up a gum tree, coony on a stump
Den over dubble trubble, Zip Coon will jump.

CHORUS: O zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.
O zip a duden duden duden duden duden day.
O zip a duden duden duden duden duden day.
O zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.

2. O its old Suky blue skin, she is in lub wid me,
I went the udder arter noon to take a dish ob tea;
What do you tink now, Suky hab for supper,
Why chicken foot an possum heel, widout any butter.

3. Did you eber see the wild goose, sailing on de ocean,
O de wild goose motion is a bery pretty notion;
Ebry time de wild goose, beckens to de swaller,
You hear him google google google google goller.

4. I tell you what will happin den, now bery soon,
De Nited States Bank will be blone to de moon;
Dare General Jackson, will him lampoon,
An de bery nex President, will be Zip Coon.

5. An wen Zip Coon our President shall be,
He make all de little Coons sing posum up a tree;
O how de little Coons, will dance an sing,
Wen he tie dare tails togedder, cross de lim dey swing.

6. Now mind wat you arter, you tarnel kritter Crocket,
You shant go head widout old Zip, he is de boy to block it,
Zip shall be President, Crocket shall be vice,
An den dey two togedder, will hab de tings nice.

7. I hab many tings to tork about, but don't know wich come first,
So here de toast to old Zip Coon, before he gin to rust;
May he hab de pretty girls, like de King ob ole,
To sing dis song so many times, fore he turn to mole. "
Pancocojams Editor's Notes [added 2/6/2018]
"Possum Up A Gum Tree" is a plantation dance song. The second line to that song is "Coony in de hollar"

"Cooney In The Holler" = means raccoon in the holler. "A holler is a valley that is between two hills and it represents a "hollowed out space." as posted by Granny, Stanton, KY, 2009

Click for a video of a fiddle performance of the 1830s song "Possum Up A Gum Stump". "Cooney in the holler" is the second line in the song "Possum Up A Gum Stump".

Like other songs of that era, it's difficult to determine how much of "Possum In A Gum Stump" originated with African Americans or White Americans. However, it's clear from documentation that "Possum Up A Gum Stump" and other songs like it were known by both Black Americans & White Americans. Furthermore, "Possum Up A Gum Stump" is now considered to be 19th century (Southern) Black American secular song.

"Coons" is a derogatory referent for Black people". There appear to be two main theories about the reason why "coon" was -and, to a much lesser degree) still is- used as an almost always derogatory referent for Black people.
1. a clip of the word raccoon", perhaps because of that animal's wily nature, or perhaps because of that animal's facial appearance
one online source:

2. a clip of the word "baraccoon" meaning cages where enslaved Africans were held while they were waiting to be sent to America
one online source:

"Den over dubble trubble, Zip coon will jump." - Versions of the song "Juba" also refer to "jumping over double trouble" (double trouble= a lot of trouble, or severe difficulties). To "jump over double trouble means to be flexible in the face of trouble.

Click for the pancocojams post entitled "Pattin Juba, Hambone, And The Bo Diddley Beat

The chorus "O Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day" is the source of the much later song "Zip A Dee Do Da".

"Suky" is a once widely used nickname for the female name "Susan" which was used by Black people and by White people in the United States. The nickname "Snookie" is probably another form of "Sukie". Neither of these nicknames are used in the United States anymore.

"Blue skin" means skin so blue that it is black. It's probably significant that this woman who is depicted as being "country" is described as being dark skinned. As such, that description is an example of colorism (prejudice among People of Color for those of their race or ethnicity who are darker -or less often- lighter).

"Natty" in the line "Ole Zip Coon he is a natty scholar" (Example #2) may mean "fancy" or "stylish" [as in Bob Marley's song "[as in Reggae song "Natty Dread"]. In this version of "Ole Zip Coon", the singer may be making fun of a Black man "acting like he's a scholar.

OLD ZIP COON (Example #2)

(3x) O ole Zip Coon he is a larned skoler,
Sings posum up a gum tree an conny in a holler.
(3x) Posum up a gum tree, coonny on a stump,
Den over dubble trubble, Zip coon will jump.

O Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.
O Zip a duden duden duden duden duden day.
O Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.
Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.

O ist old Suky blue skin, she is in lub wid me
I went the udder arter noon to take a dish ob tea;
What do you tink now, Suky hab for supper,
Why chicken foot an posum heel, widout any butter.


Did you eber see the wild goose, sailing on de ocean,
O de wild goose motion is a berry pretty notion;
Ebry time de wild goose, beckens to de swaller,
You hear him google google google google gollar.


I went down to Sandy Hollar t other arternoon
And the first man I chanced to meet war ole Zip Coon;
Ole Zip Coon he is a natty scholar,
For he plays upon de Banjo “Cooney in de hollar”.


My old Missus she’s mad wid me,
Kase I would’nt go wid her into Tennessee
Massa build him barn and put in de fodder
Twas dis ting and dat ting one ting or odder.


I pose you heard ob de battle New Orleans,
Whar ole Gineral Jackson gib de British beans;
Dare de Yankee boys do de job so slick, creek.
For dey cotch old Packenham an rowed him up de first.

Source - Library of Congress American Memory Collection; quoted in by Jim Dixon, Date: 02 Jan 04 - 01:30 PM

LYRICS - OLD ZIP COON (Version #2)

There once was a man with a double chin,
Who played with skill on a violin:
And he played in time and he played in tune,
But he never played anything but 'Old Zip Coon'.
'Old Zip Coon' he played all day,
Until he drove his friends away;
He played all night by the light of the moon
And wouldn't play anything but 'Old Zip Coon'.

So the neighbours said "Will you kindly play
'Nellie Bly' or 'Where are the Flowers in May'?"
Any tune will do if its not that tune,"
But he wouldn't play anything but 'Old Zip Coon'.
'Old Zip Coon' he played all night,
Until the owls and bats took flight;
His friends all begged for a different tune,
But he wouldn't play anything but 'Old Zip Coon'.

So they took that man with the double chin,
All his worldly goods and the violin.
And they shipped him off to a foreign shore
Where the natives had never heard the tune before.
'Old Zip Coon' he played all day:
He played until the natives ran away:
He played and played by the light of the moon
Till they wished they had never heard of 'Old Zip Coon'.

They have left him there by the deep blue sea,
Where he lives alone in a hollow tree;
And he played that tune and it never ends,
So it isn't surprising that he has no friends.
'Old Zip Coon' he plays all day,
There's no one left to run away;
And still he thinks it's a beautiful tune,
And that is the history of 'Old Zip Coon'.

Source- Singing Together, Autumn 1960, BBC Publications
(quoted from
This version is also found on where it is credited to
"Singing Together, Autumn 1960, BBC Publications".

That publication's notes indicated that this is an "Old American Tune; Words by David Stevens".

Notice that that version of "Old Zip Coon" is cleaned of its Black Southern dialect and contains no references to Black people. This version is sung in the sound file given below.

Official Boy Scout Record - Old Zip Coon - Sung by the Old Time Scout (Al Bernard) - 1924

victrolamanUploaded on Dec 12, 2011

In 1924 The American Record Company of Framingham, Massachusetts pressed this "Official Boy Scout Record", which contained two selections taken from the Boy Scout Song book. The label design shows two Scouts in Uniform, both standing on a rocky knoll, one is using the signal flags and the other is peering throw his binoculars. The selection on this video is side B "Old Zip Coon" identified on the record only as an "Old Time Scout", but easily identified by his voice as early recording artist Al Bernard. These records were pressed by Cameo in 1924, presumably for use by Boy Scout troupes and their members, and they were played around the campfires during the evenings for entertainments and sing-a-longs.

Comment from the video uploader: [hereafter given as "Old Zip Coon video comments"
"According to one comment below, this was still being sung, and included in the Boy Scout Song Book as late as the early 60's. These are the modern day lyrics and do not include any race related verbiage. The only race related reference is to the Title of the song, which the fellow kept singing over and over again. The melody and title date to the early 1830's, and the intention of the posting was to show, a little known part of Boy Scout History, (The Record and a typical scout campfire Song.).
-victrolaman, January 2013

Comment About Example #1:
The title "Old Zip Coon" was undoubtedly chosen to make fun of Black people. To quote a commenter in the featured video's viewer comment thread: "First performed by George Dixon in 1834, Zip Coon made a mockery of free blacks. An arrogant, ostentatious figure, he dressed in high style and spoke in a series of malaprops and puns that undermined his attempts to appear dignified."
- victrolaman, January, 2013
"Old Zip Coon video comments"

Pancocojams Editor's Comments:
Although some of the verses of this version aren't obviously racist, the intent of this version of "Old Zip Coon" with its blackface performance and its use of Black Southern dialect is a clear intent to make fun of & otherwise put down Black people.

Unlike the words in the other verses which aren't obstensible racist except for the word "coon", the lyrics to Verses #4 & #5 of Example #1 are clearly racist. Those verses ironically refer to what was considered to be a ludicrous occurance that the President of the United States would be Black. And Verse #5 could be read to mean that Black children have tails instead of possums having tails that would be tied together. Some people have also indicated that this verse is a wink at lynching (Old "Old Zip Coon video comments, favoom1, 2012)

In my opinion, Verse #2 in Example #1 also includes a put down of "country" Black folks (Black people who either live in the country or have kept their "country" [rural] ways. Notice, for example, the implication that the country dishes of "chicken foot an posum heel, widout any butter" that the dark skinned woman (Suky* blue skin**) prepares for supper is something that is beneath the culinary tastes of the singer. In my opinion, that verse is one of many such verses & songs of the 19th and early 20th century & later which reflect classism, in this context meaning having a preference for city living & city folks rather than country living & country folks. For example, click this page of my cultural blog[hereafter given as Cocojams: Secular Slave Songs] to read "Aunt Jemima" from Thomas W. Talley's 1922 collection Negro Folk Rhymes, Wise & Otherwise.

Note: This verse is also found in the version of this song that is given as Example #2 of this post.

Note: "My old Missus she’s mad wid me/Kase I would’nt go wid her into Tennessee" - This line reflects the reluctance of enslaved Black people to live in the deep South where conditions were worse for Black people and where it was more difficult to escape slavery. Of course, unlike the implication of this verse, it wasn't a matter of choice whether a slave would move down South with his or her master & mistress or not.

Thanks to those whose comments & transcriptions I quoted. Thanks also to the publisher of this sound file on YouTube.

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Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. This is really informative and detailed. Thank you for posting.

    1. Thanks, Anonymous. I appreciate your comment.

  2. Thanks for this rich history! So helpful!

    1. You're welcome, Rebecca.

      Thanks for your comment.

  3. I chanced upon your page while looking for the origins of the song, "There was an old soldier" or "The Old Tobacco Box," which was also sung to "Turkey in the Straw." The Tobacco Box song was popular during the Civil War, but I wonder if it doesn't go back farther. You've documented the tune back to the 1830s, for which I am grateful. This is an interesting page. I bet people did get tired of the tune! And the racist lyrics, too.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Martha Murphy.

      I'm glad you found this blog.

      To be technical, I've not documented that tune dates to the 1830s, but I did share what others have documented.

      Thanks again!