Old Zip Coon
DESCRIPTION: "Ole Zip Coon he is a larned scholar (x3), Sings possum up a gum tree an coony in a holler." Chorus: "O Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day (x4)." The remaining verses are quatrains about the people and animals of the south
EARLIEST DATE: 1834 (five different sheet music editions)
KEYWORDS: animal humorous nonballad
Jan 8, 1815 - Battle of New Orleans. Americans under Andrew Jackson defeat British troops under Pakenham (the event is referred to obliquely in stanza 6 of the sheet music)
FOUND IN: US(NE,SE,So)
REFERENCES (8 citations):
RJackson-19CPop, pp. 258-260, "Zip Coon" (1 text, 1 tune)
Linscott, pp. 101-103, "Old Zip Coon" (1 tune plus dance instructions)
BrownIII 418, "Old Zip Coon" (1 text plus mention of 1 more)
Belden, pp. 505-506, "Zip Coon" (1 text, minus the chorus but with the other characteristics of the piece)
Lomax-FSNA 49, "Turkey in the Straw" (2 text, 1 tune, the second being "Zip Coon")
Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 17-19, "Zip Coon" (1 text, 1 tune)
Emerson, pp. 30-32, "Zip Coon" (1 text, credited to George Washington Dixon)
Fuld-WFM, pp. 591-592, "Turkey in the Straw (Zip Coon)"
ST RJ19258 (Full)
Arkansas Charlie [pseud. for Charlie Craver], "Old Zip Coon (Vocalion 5384, c. 1930)
Hindermyer & Tuckerman [Goldy & Dusty], "Zip Coon" (Edison 51830, 1926)
cf. "Turkey in the Straw" (tune & meter) and references there
cf. "The Old Tobacco Box (There Was an Old Soldier)" (tune, floating lyrics)
cf. "The Ould Bog Hole" (tune)
The Buckeye Song (Lawrence, p. 275; the tune is not listed but is clearly this)
NOTES: Generally regarded as a the forerunner of "Turkey in the Straw." And its lyrics are absurd enough to make "Turkey" seem eminently sensible.
At least three people have claimed authorship of the song: George Washington Dixon (mentioned but not credited on the earliest sheet music), George Nichols, and Bob Farrell. All three were early blackface performers of the piece (Farrell was actually called "Zip Coon," and is reported to have sung the song in 1834). The dispute over authorship probably cannot be settled at this time. For a description of what is believed to be the first publication (by G. Willig Jr. of Baltimore), which lists it as sung by "Mr. Dixon," see Harry Dichter and Elliott Shapiro, Early American Sheet Music: Its Lure and Its Lore, 1768-1889, R. R. Bowker, 1941, p. 53.
Jon W. Finson, The Voices That Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song, Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 170 says that Dixon began his career in 1828, and also played as "Coal Black Rose," and possibly originated another character whose song went into tradition, "Long Tail Blue."
Finson suggests that one line in this song, the claim that Old Zip "he is a larned skolar" came out of the controversies surrounding Andrew Jackson. Harvard in 1833 gave him an honorary law doctorate -- something they did regularly for president -- but the Whigs objected that he was just barely literate. So it was declared that Jackson was an "L. K. D. and an A. S. S." Some wit cracked that A. S. S. stood for "Amazin' Smart Skoller." The insult obviously did Jackson no harm, and the wisecrack at some point went into this song. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.