Monday, December 16, 2013

Old Dan Tucker - Minstrel Song & Play Party Song

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides information, lyrics, and videos of the American song "Old Dan Tucker" (also given as "Ole Dan Tucker"}

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

"Old Dan Tucker", also known as "Ole Dan Tucker", "Dan Tucker", and other variants, is a popular American song. Its origins remain obscure; the tune may have come from oral tradition, and the words may have been written by songwriter and performer Dan Emmett. The blackface troupe the Virginia Minstrels popularized "Old Dan Tucker" in 1843, and it quickly became a minstrel hit, behind only "Miss Lucy Long" and "Mary Blane" in popularity during the antebellum period...

The first sheet music edition of "Old Dan Tucker", published in 1843, is a song of boasts and nonsense in the vein of previous minstrel hits such as "Jump Jim Crow" and "Gumbo Chaff". In exaggerated Black Vernacular English, the lyrics tell of Dan Tucker's exploits in a strange town, where he fights, gets drunk, overeats, and breaks other social taboos. Minstrel troupes freely added and removed verses, and folk singers have since added hundreds more. Parodies and political versions are also known...

The origin of the music of "Old Dan Tucker" has always been obscure, and no sheet music edition from 1843, its year of its first publication, names a composer. The first performance of the tune (but not lyrics) may have happened as early as 1841.[40] The music may in fact be from the oral tradition or may have been a product of collaboration.[33]

...[Some of the lyrics to “Old Dan Tucker]... seem to partially derive from an earlier minstrel song called "Walk Along John" or "Oh, Come Along John", first published in various songsters in the early 1840s.[46] Some verses have clear echoes in versions of "Old Dan Tucker":
Johnny law on de rail road track,
He tied de engine on his back;
He pair's his corn wid a rail road wheel,
It gib 'em de tooth ache in de heel.

Possible slave origin
A story dating to at least 1965 claims that "Old Dan Tucker" was written by slaves about a man named Daniel Tucker who lived in Elbert County, Georgia. Tucker was a farmer, ferryman, and minister who appears in records from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The story, as related by Mrs. Guy Rucker, the great-great-granddaughter of one of Tucker's neighbors, claims that Tucker became quite well liked by the slaves in his area through his ministry to them.[49]

According to this interpretation, the lyrics address Tucker directly. The chorus, "You're too late to get your supper" is a kindhearted taunt to a man who often arrived after dark, forcing his hosts to scrape up a meal for him.[49] The song's occasional lewdness is explained by the natural impromptu nature of its supposed origin.[50]

"Old Dan Tucker" does show evidence of black influence. For example, bizarre imagery in folk versions of the song (e.g., "toothache in his heel") may be a sign of legitimate black input (or of someone poking fun of slaves who had an incomplete knowledge of English).[45] "Old Dan Tucker" most closely resembles African music in its call-and-response refrain.[35]

Daniel Tucker was buried in Elbert County in 1818.[51] The Elbert County Chamber of Commerce today promotes his grave as a tourist attraction due to his possible connection with the character from the song."
Here's another comment about the possible Black American origin of this song and the possible connection between the Egbert County Dan Tucker and the character mentioned in that song from "Old Dan Tucker", posted by Bill D, 10 May 03 - 12:14 PM
"My wife was just looking thru some old newspapers saved by her aunt in Georgia in 1945 and found an entire article on Rev. Daniel Tucker, with photographs of the gravesite, and of Fiddlin' John Carson. ...I will try to scan the article, which claims the the original song was begun by the local Negroes, who adored Rev. Tucker...the implication being that Dan Emmett merely added to it and popularized it. (not surprising, given the loose way 'ownership' and credit was treated in those days)......THe article in the Atlanta Journal gives a LOT of history of Rev. Tucker and the area and culture

In the meantime, search found this page with this quote in it [hyperlink no longer viable]

"Old Dan Tucker"
Rev. Daniel Tucker owned a large plantation on the Savannah River and is buried near his old hometown, "Point Lookout", six miles from here. Born in Virginia, February 14, 1774, Daniel Tucker came here to take up a land grant. A revolutionary soldier, planter and minister, he owned and operated Tucker's Ferry near his home. He died April 7, 1818 - but not "of a toothache in his heel". Esteemed by his fellow planters, he was loved by the Negroes who composed the many verses of the famous ditty, "Old Dan Tucker", a favorite song at corn shuckings and social gatherings. Marker is on GA 72 southeast of Middleton."
Click that Mudcat link for the "original" lyrics that are credited to Daniel Emmett, and other comments that include lyrics for that song. Here's a quote* followed by a comment that was posted by Dicho Date: 04 Jun 02 - 10:53 PM
" "Composed by Dan D. Emmet, and sung by him with unbounded applause in Howe's Amphitheatre of the Republic, New York." Page 622 in "Marsh's Selection, or Singing For the Million, Containing the Choicest and Best Collection of Admired Patriotic, Comic, Irish, Negro, Temperance, and Sentimental Songs Ever Embodied in One Work." Three volumes in one, New York, Richard Marsh, 374 Pearl Street, 1854. Reproduced in Newman I. White, 1928, American Negro Folk Songs, pp. 446-447 (1965 reprint)."

Some verses borrowed from Negro song, some Negro folk song verses were borrowed from Emmett. A complete version of a minstrel song. Note: Spelling preserved."
Some verses of early versions of "Old Dan Tucker" include what is now known as "the n word".

"A play party is a social event in which people gather to sing and dance. Play parties began in the 1830s in the United States as a route around strict religious practices banning dancing and the playing of musical instruments. The areas most influenced by the practice were the Southern and Midwestern parts of the United States. Folk songs, many of European and English origin, were used as means to give the attendants choreographed movements for each phrase. No instruments were played at the events, as they were banned by the religious movements of the area. Singing and clapping were used to convey each song. Because dancing was banned, the movements took on the quality of children's games. Though the performance of play parties dwindled in the 1950s, music educators use them as ways to incorporate music and dance in their classrooms.

Some traditional examples of play-parties are: Skip to My Lou, Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees, Shoot the Buffalo, Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come Out Tonight, B.I.N.G.O., Pop Goes the Weasel, Old Dan Tucker."
From posted by Dicho, 29 Apr 02 - 09:36 PM
" is a "playparty" version from Missouri.

"In this game all the players choose partners and form a big circle, holding hands. An odd boy is called "Old Dan," and he stands alone in the center. Everybody sings lustily:
Old Dan Tucker down in town,
Swingin' the ladies all a-round,
First to the right and then to the left,
An' then to the one that you love best.

At the words "first to the right" it is "Old Dan's" privilege to pull a girl out into the ring by her right hand, turn her around once, and thrust her back into her place again. When they sing "then to the left" he takes another girl out by the left hand and swings her as before. At the words "then to the one that you love best" every boy swings his own partner. It is at this moment that "Old Dan" tries desperately to grab a girl for himself, and if he succeeds, the man who has lost his partner must be the next "Old Dan."

The following stanza is a sort of chorus, used to keep "Old Dan" in the ring as long as possible, since he has no opportunity to get a partner while it is being sung.

Git out of the way for old Dan Tucker,
He's too late to git his supper,
Supper's over and breakfast a-cookin',
An' Old Dan Tucker standin' a-lookin'.

If "Old Dan" really wishes to expedite matters he can use one girl for all three movements of the game, and thus be sure of getting himself a partner, but this is not considered the sporting thing, and is not often done- usually not unless "Old Dan" loses his temper. Several other verses are used as filler in this game:

Old Dan Tucker down in town,
A-ridin' a goat and leadin' a hound,
The hound gives a howl an' the goat gives a jump,
An' throwed Old Dan a-straddle of a stump.

Old Dan Tucker he got drunk,
Fell in the fire and kicked out a chunk,
Fire coal got in Dan's old shoe,
Oh my golly how the ashes flew!"

From Mr. Carl Durbin, Missouri, 1927.
Found in minstrel shows as early as 1841. Often credited to Dan D. Emmett. A related piece, "Get Out of the Way, Old Johnny Tucker" (Negro Minstrel's Song Book, 1850), and many other citations.
Vance Randolph, 1982, Ozark Folksongs, Vol. 3, pp. 301-304. Several other sets of verses given from Missouri and Arkansas.
From "Indiana Play Party Song"

Old Dan Tucker's still in town,
Swinging the ladies all around,
First to the East and then to the West,
Then to the one that you love best.

Get out of the way of Old Dan Tucker!
He's too late to get his supper.
Supper's over and breakfast's cooking,
Old Dan Tucker's stands a-looking.

Old Dan Tucker's a fine old man,
Washed his feet (or face) in the frying pan,
Combed his hair with a wagon wheel
And died with a tooth-ache in his heel.

[version collected from] Mrs. Leslie Beall, Versailles, Indiana]
Get out o' the way for Old Dan Tucker,
He's too late to get his supper.
Some are black and some are blacker,
Some are the color of a chew a' terbacker.

Ripley County [Indiana] variants.
Swing three ladies, Old Dan Tucker [3 times]
Down in the valley.
Promenade round Old Dan Tucker [3 times]
Down in the valley

(These videos are posted in chronological order based on their posting date, with the oldest dated video presented first.)

Example #1: Ol Dan Tucker

AMSOMmp, Uploaded on Jul 7, 2009

Andy and Opie sings Ol Dan Tucker

Example #2: Ol' Dan Tucker From the Second South Carolina String Band.

rosestar77, Uploaded on Feb 19, 2010

Shot in Gettysburg, PA.

Example #3: Grandpa Jones - Old Dan Tucker

ClassicCountryMusic1, Uploaded on Feb 20, 2011

Grandpa Jones And His Wife Ramona Jones On The Grand Ole Opry.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks to the performers & musicians, and thanks to the producers of these videos on YouTube.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. I am curious on the author opinion about it is still permissible for one to continue using a song that its original intentions were about slave expressing their suffering and oral history. However, I feel that once the minstrel had a hold of the song it tainted and sour the song and take away the slave experiences.

    1. Unknown, I think that every person has to make up her and his mind about the use of compositions that are categorized as "minstrel songs".

      I would prefer that these songs be taught in to older students along with their music history.