Bad News: That Ice Cream Truck Song Is Based on One of the Most Racist Songs Ever Recorded

Theodore R. Johnson, III, NPR, May 11th, 2014

{snip}

“[N****] Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!” merits the distinction of the most racist song title in America. Released in March, 1916, by Columbia Records it was written by actor Harry C. Browne and played on the familiar depiction of black people as mindless beasts of burden greedily devouring slices of watermelon.

{snip} When I started the song, the music that tumbled from the speakers was that of the ever-recognizable jingle of the ice cream truck (For the record, not all ice cream trucks play this same song, but a great many of them do.)

As quickly as it began, the music paused, and this call-and-response ensued:

Browne: “You n******s quit throwin’ them bones and come down and get your ice cream!”

Black men (incredulously): “Ice Cream?!?”

Browne: “Yes, ice cream! Colored man’s ice cream: WATERMELON!!”

My mouth dropped. The music immediately resumed and so did the racism. I soon realized that the ice cream truck song was forever ruined for me, especially once the chorus began:

N***** love a watermelon ha ha, ha ha!

N*****  love a watermelon ha ha, ha ha!

For here, they’re made with a half a pound of co’l

There’s nothing like a watermelon for a hungry coon

Origin of the song

I wondered how such a prejudiced song could have become the anthem of ice cream and childhood summers. I learned that though Mr. Browne was fairly creative in his lyrics, the song’s premise and its melody are nearly as old as America itself. As often happens with matters of race, something that is rather vanilla in origin is coopted and sprinkled with malice along the way.

For his creation, Browne simply used the well-known melody of the early nineteenth-century song “Turkey in the Straw,” which dates back to the even older and traditional British song “The (Old) Rose Tree.” The tune was brought to America’s colonies by Scots-Irish immigrants who settled along the Appalachian Trail and added lyrics that mirrored their new lifestyle.

The first and natural inclination, of course, is to assume that the ice cream truck song is simply paying homage to “Turkey in the Straw,” but the melody reached the nation only after it was appropriated by traveling blackface minstrel shows. There is simply no divorcing the song from the dozens of decades it was almost exclusively used for coming up with new ways to ridicule, and profit from, black people.

Blackface minstrels steal the show

In the late 1820s, the music was given new lyrics that dripped with racism and titled “Zip Coon.” The blackface character of the same name parodied a free black man attempting to conform to white high society by dressing in fine clothes and using big words. Fifty years later in antebellum America, the character became an archetype of the black urbanite and propelled minstrel shows to the height of their popularity. Zip Coon was the city slicker counterpart to the dimwitted, rural blackface character whose name became infamous in 20th century America–Jim Crow. These two characters would often interact on stage and were the inspiration for the hugely successful Amos ‘n’ Andy act decades later.

The lyrics of “Zip Coon” follow the namesake through encounters with possums, playing the banjo, and courting a woman whose skin was so black that he calls her “ol Suky blue skin.” A century later, it was still celebrated and inspiring America’s music. The recognizable melody aside, we’ve all sung a variation of the lyrics. The chorus goes:

O zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.

(If this sounds similar to the Academy Award winning “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” it’s because that song was derived from this chorus)

At the turn of the twentieth century, one of the nation’s most popular collectibles was the coon card–a postcard with racist artwork, such as bug-eyed, clown-faced blacks eating watermelon. These items were essentially the racist version of trading cards and nearly ubiquitous. Browne meshed the theme of the popular coon cards with the familiar melody and voila: “N***** Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!”

The ice cream cross-over happened concurrently. Nineteenth-century ice cream parlors played the popular minstrel songs of the day. After World War II, the advent of the automobile and the ensuing sprawl required parlors to devise a way to take their products to the customers. The ice cream truck was the solution and a music box was installed in them as a way to announce their presence in neighborhoods. Naturally, the traditional minstrel tunes of the previous century were employed to evoke the memorable parlor experience.

And this is the story of why our beloved ice cream truck plays blackface minstrel music that sends kids dashing into homes in a Pavlovian frenzy searching for money to buy a popsicle.

{snip}

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  • JackKrak

    Well, there’s my new ringtone then

    • mobilebay

      Well, JackKrak, you and I both would have a visit from the PC police. I’d like to have “Dixie” on my phone.

    • TruthBeTold

      Apparently some blacks didn’t consider this song the most racist song ever when it had different lyrics:

      “Chain Hang Low”

      www youtube com/watch?v=4SBN_ikibtg

  • MekongDelta69

    “‘[N****] Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!’ merits the distinction of the most racist song title in America. Released in March, 1916, by Columbia Records it was written by actor Harry C. Browne and played on the familiar depiction of black people as mindless beasts of burden greedily devouring slices of watermelon.”

    And the false depiction is where…?
    [Rhetorical question]

    • TruthBeTold

      EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is about a virulently, racist song. Read no further if you wish to avoid racist imagery and slurs.

      That certainly piqued my curiosity.

      Far from exposing the hidden racist history of ice cream trucks, this article will be sure to create new interest in the old, obscure lyrics.

      How many people will now pass this piece of trivia on every time they hear this song?

      The author knows not what he has done.

      He might want to research Al Jolson sing the Jerome Kern song, “Paris is a Paradise for C00ns” in black face.

      • Alexandra1973

        “Virulently” racist? I got a chuckle out of that. I bet the author has never heard any gangsta rap.

  • TruthBeTold

    The first and natural inclination, of course, is to assume that the ice
    cream truck song is simply paying homage to “Turkey in the Straw,” but
    the melody reached the nation only after it was appropriated by
    traveling blackface minstrel shows. There is simply no divorcing the
    song from the dozens of decades it was almost exclusively used for
    coming up with new ways to ridicule, and profit from, black people.

    This is a big stretch but not surprising.

    I never heard this version and no one ever talked about it.

    This seems to be an obscure version of this tune.

    Ask 100 people in the US who know the song and 100 people will identify it as Turkey in the Straw.

    • Oldcorporal

      Yep. The tune is unmistakable.

    • LHathaway

      lol, your two separate comments contradict each other. . . WN will come on strong one day though and we wont be confused.. I don’t know how obscure this song is, or how many listened to it in it’s day. . but a lot of these things condemned as ‘racism’ were actually meant to endear coloreds to whites. The reader of the story Huck Finn is expected to like and learn from the black character in the story.

      • TruthBeTold

        There’s an old documentary out there about minstrel shows and black face. It was produced to spread the idea that black face was wrong and a form of racism forced on blacks. I believe it was done in the early ’70 when the push to politicize black face as racism began. Before then, black face was just another form of entertainment.

        In the documentary, they had an interview with an elderly black man who performed in minstrel shows in black face.

        He spoke very fondly of the experience. He also said that blacks like to do black face because it exaggerated their features. I would assume the white counterpart would be whites who put on white face as clowns and exaggerate their white skin and red lips. But nobody talks about white face as racist self-mocking.

  • Whitetrashgang

    Something to put a smile on your face, and put you in a good mood for the rest of the day.

    • r j p

      Selling watermelon to blacks would be racist.
      And the truck would probably get robbed more often because it would make more money.

      • Brian

        And yet, refusing to sell to them would also be racist. That’s the magic of it!

    • bilderbuster

      That’s why they call the ice cream man “The Good Humor Man”.

  • D.B. Cooper

    Selling ice cream aint what it used to be

    • Bon, From the Land of Babble

      Those two aren’t selling ice cream out of that truck.

      http //www nydailynews com/new-york/brooklyn-ice-cream-truck-driver-sold-coke-vehicle-article-1 1418931

      • Oldcorporal

        Anyone surprised? They look like Cheech and Chong.

      • Lagerstrom

        The van is ‘made’ of marijuana.

        • neshobanakni

          I believe that’s from an earlier movie.

  • r j p

    There is simply no divorcing the song from the dozens of decades it was almost exclusively used for coming up with new ways to ridicule, and profit from, black people.

    • Whitetrashgang

      Instead of Ice cream trucks should just have watermelon trucks.

  • Puggg

    And this is the story of why our beloved ice cream truck plays blackface minstrel music that sends kids dashing into homes in a Pavlovian frenzy searching for money

    Or sometimes a gun.

    They’re known for liberating money from ice cream truck drivers.

    • Bon, From the Land of Babble

      I’d like to see one of them try that on one of the Russian, Georgian, Armenian or other scar-faced Eastern Europeans that run the ice cream trucks around here.

      • Oldcorporal

        From what I’ve heard, the Eastern Europeans won’t put up with crap from them, the way too many of we White Americans have been conditioned to do.

        • Jacobite2

          Late one NYC night I saw a Korean grocery clerk spot a black sneaking out with a carton of donuts. Jumped over the counter with a fungo bat and chased to guy down, wailed the tar out of him, and walked back with the donuts. How often do you get to witness perfect justice?

          • Alexandra1973

            And it was Koreans, as I recall, that were protecting their shops with shotguns during the ’92 riots.

          • Jacobite2

            My experience of Koreans has been that they don’t fool around much. If we had contracted VN out to the ROK troops, things might’ve been different.

    • SoulInvictus

      That’s like the saddest mental image I’ve had in a long time.
      Some nice old ice cream man getting jacked by a mob of mini-Somalians.
      If that isn’t a metaphor for white America, I don’t know what is.

      Only in this surreal state of affairs could selling frozen happiness turn into Black Hawk Down…

  • Her music from history–proof that America was once honest about race. Of course, today being honest about race is called racism. I’ll take the truth for $100, Alex.

    • ElComadreja

      Back then both whites and blacks laughed at this.

  • none of your business

    I’m White and I love watermelon. It is good to always have one around for weight control. Sweet, delicious and practically no calories. This article must be the product of a grant hustler.

  • IstvanIN

    Good grief, two of my grandparents weren’t even born when this came out. This is ridiculous.

    • Lagerstrom

      Yeah, my b/s detector (which is pretty good) is ringing at me.

  • Who Me?

    “Turkey In The Straw” is one of the first pieces my grandpa taught me to play on the piano at the age of four years old. Too bad he never heard this version. He’d have laughed uproariously, taught me the words, and then made me promise never to use them in public.

  • MikeofAges

    Is it my imagination, or does this tune resemble the tune of the1960s hit “Battle of New Orleans” (Johnny Horton). A great geopolitical song. How many people know, by the time the battle was fought, a peace agreement had been reached already in Europe? The Battle of New Orleans was the first major battle lost by the British in the War of 1812. The British knew when to get out.

    But the loss in New Orleans undoubtedly helped persuade the British not to consider any further adventures in North America.

    • skara_brae

      With the possible exception of the ten trillion acres above the 49th parallel bordered by the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

      • MikeofAges

        They had Canada already. They never intervened in our Civil War, though that was just prudent policy. The book on that issue is, when some other country is having a civil war, you stand aside and deal with whomever the winner is. The communists in the Soviet era were an exception to that rule, because they had the capability of setting up an enduring dictatorship in any country where their forces prevailed. That’s how we ended up with Red China, so-called. Maybe our establishment behind the scenes wanted a Red China. You’ll have to ask them, any survivors of that era who are privy to its secrets.

  • Bon, From the Land of Babble

    All the ice cream trucks around here are run by Eastern European immigrants who play Christmas Carols all year round. It’s not uncommon to hear “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” on a 100+ degree day in July and August.

    Guess the racist, hateful lyrics of rap music that promote killing Whites doesn’t count.

    These artists even won a Grammy:

    “Bust a Glock; devils [whites] get shot. . . . I’m killing more crackers [whites] than Bosnia-Herzegovina, each and everyday. . . . don’t bust until you see the whites of his eyes, the whites of his skin”

    –“Enemy”; Ice Cube

    “it’s time to rob and mob and break the white man off something lovely”;

    –“The Day the Niggaz Took Over”; Dr Dre,

    • Romulus

      It’s a good thing that SC*mbag is dead. If he was still alive many would love to take him to task. .
      Forgive guys, I feel as if im running low on fresh commentary.
      I’ll be taking a few weeks off this summer to engross myself in the literature I’ve been buying up and dedicating more time to “Bill of Rights” group that I belong too.

    • Sick of it

      I believe you mean Lev Bronstein.

      • Bon, From the Land of Babble

        Naturellement.

        Bronstein ended up getting what he rightly deserved — an ice axe to the brain, a just ending for a mass murderer, sadist, for his criminal role in the Red Holocaust and the untold human misery he and his twisted, warped ideals caused. Most of the rest of his family was killed in separate attacks.

        • LHathaway

          Thank you for your heart warming sentiments.

          • Lagerstrom

            Me too!

        • Sick of it

          Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

        • Mergatroyd

          I came across this the other day about the Soviets. Those who admire and defend them, including posters here on AR should be reminded of their crimes against humanity.

          Frankly, I think an ice axe to the brain was too kind considering what he personally did to the Russian people leading to the deaths of tens of millions of innocent white Russians.

          “Common methods to execute included artificial famine, forced enlistment in communist wars, direct killings through shooting, lynching, various sadistic methods by commissars and their functionaries and killing in Bolshevistic death camps. Under Lenin the communists led the way in initiating the Abortion Holocaust against the people as part of demographic genocide, though others reversed it because they needed cannon fodder.”

      • SoulInvictus

        Lev Engl…? Oh….:)

    • Lagerstrom

      I only ever heard two songs via the ice-cream van when I was a kid (in Australia) ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘Home On The Range’, great times!

  • So CAL Snowman

    And just like that I have a new favorite song. It was just a different time back then, honest and easy going. It must have been wonderful to live in a country where it was OK to be a White man and call a spade a spade. It’s all television’s fault. Imagine trying to sell the equality lie without TV. Imagine trying to convince the White race via newspaper and radio that blacks and browns are our equals.

    • Whitetrashgang

      True, I always use to say TV brought down the Iron curtain. Now it is used against us.Just like the internet with webcams are the new secret police. Never ever use a webcam nothing good will become of it.

      • Alexandra1973

        Is it true that analog-to-digital converter boxes also spy on you?

        Never bought one. Then again if I want to watch something I watch a DVD or YouTube. I also don’t have cable, no way I’m throwing money away to have garbage pumped into my home.

    • SoulInvictus

      Ha, ha, ha, ha!

      …catchy.:)

  • WR_the_realist

    You can find much more virulent anti-white racism today but Theodore Johnson found it necessary to go back nearly a century to find some anti-black racism that would fire up his moral indignation.

  • LACountyRedneck

    My new ring tone!

  • dd121

    I always wondered why I liked ice cream so much.

  • Lion’s Mane

    This attempt to destroy the reputation of “Turkey in the Straw” — a piece often learned by piano students — is both malicious and stupid. The declaration that “there is simply no divorcing the song from . . . (blah blah blah) ” is sheer arrogance. NOBODY, before this noxious anti-white article was written, ever associated this traditional melody with how it was used in this unknown ‘watermelon song.’ Moreover, any song ever written could be turned into a song of ridicule — of anything.

    The whole point here is political. The intent is to rob Whites of a tiny piece of their cultural heritage — and thus legitimize the destruction-in-full of that heritage. This article grants Blacks and other non-Whites the AUTHORITY to destroy European and White culture on any flimsy and nonsensical excuse. This is a way of usurping power — and shows what dangerous extremes the spirit of anti-racism can lead to.

    • Uncle_Dan

      They even destroy their own heritage with the campaign against “Sambo.” My mother read me “Little Black Sambo” when I was a child, and I identified with him since he, like I, loved pancakes! Of course we admired how clever he was in destroying the pursuing tiger, and how resourceful he was in converting the black and yellow stripes into butter! But the race hustlers have taken this lovely, innocent fable away.

      • SoulInvictus

        Thanks for reminding me of that. I’ve been meaning to buy as many story books from by gone times as possible for my own kids…

      • bilderbuster

        There’s a new Black role model for you now.
        His name is Michael Sambo.

      • Mergatroyd

        There was also a Denny’s type restaurant in California a few decades ago called “Sambos” that was based on the Indian fairytail. Blacks thought it was about them, screamed racist and got the place shut down.

        They see race in everything and what with their low IQs it would be funny if it weren’t taken so seriously by TPTB in this country. Remember that guy that used the word “niggardly” to describe the financial situation of his office and was fired for it?

        • Who Me?

          I remember Sambo’s restaurants from way back. I think they were a big chain, They had them in Washington state, too. Sometime or another they were all quietly closed down or the name changed to Denny’s. I thought the company had just been bought out or something. They really did have good, cheap food, and clean family friendly eatery.

  • Oldcorporal

    Poor, put-upon blacks, once again being told how TERRIBLE they have it in this “racist” country, by National Public Radio! Everybody who thinks this article is anything but a pathetic joke, stand on your head.

  • OhWow

    LOL just the other day this played out of a New York ice cream truck down my block. Next time it comes around if it’s playing that tune again I’ll buy some kids on the block some nice vanilla flavored ice cream!

  • Tim_in_Indiana

    I’ve always thought of that as “The Farming Song” but now I must say I’ve gained a new appreciation for it! It’s immediately going into iTunes (after I see if I can do a little noise reduction on it). Of course, all ice cream trucks in the country will now have to be retrofitted at great expense of the owners/operators, and we will lose yet another little slice of Americana. And none of that would have been necessary if this little fear-mongering piece of trash by the left-wing, taxpayer-supported, hate-mongering organization NPR hadn’t been produced and disseminated.

  • MBlanc46

    Okay, they use “Turkey In the Straw” to advertise ice cream. A hundred years ago someone you’ve never heard of put some other words, that you’ve never heard of, that some consider “racist” to that tune. And the logical conclusion is that ice cream trucks are racist. Only in America.

    • IstvanIN

      They are running out of ways to accuse of us being racist.

      • MBlanc46

        They’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

        • IstvanIN

          106 year old 78s that most people can not even play.

          • TruthBeTold

            We need to thank the author of this story for bring this song to our attention so new generations can enjoy it as well.

          • Lagerstrom

            They may download? Naaa, I don’t think so.

          • LACountyRedneck

            78’s are racist.

          • MBlanc46

            If they’d ever heard of them or could get ahold of them if they could.

  • In my neighborhood, in the suburbs of LA, besides the KKK ice-cream trucks, we also had Helms Bakery Trucks that would go up and down the streets tooting their happy little tune. I remember these deeply polished wood-grain drawers in the back that smoothly slid open to reveal all kinds of delectable aromatic warm fresh doughnuts. No doubt the next expose will unmask the little known historical fact that these trucks were actually–and there’s no getting around it–direct descendants of Helms Bakery Runaway Slave Wagons that lured little black runaways to their re-enslavement by enticing them with doughnuts featuring watermelon icing. Oh the horror! (I deeply regret I was involved with these hate trucks.)

  • Moe

    I think ol’ “Foghorn Leghorn” from the Looney Tunes cartoons strolled into the scene with this very melody. May even be on the “Carl Stalling Project” discs that came out years ago…Stalling was the principle composer for most of the music to those early Looney Tunes….

    • Malgus

      Foggy has got to be one of my favorite cartoon characters of all time. Him and that dog going at it hammer and tongs… 🙂

      “Rope limit”… heh, heh…

  • Juggernaut3000

    Who cares? Where don’t they find racism?

  • LHathaway

    Is it now evil to dash into your home and search for money to buy a popsicle. Do they search around the home in a confused manner, like a wayward black person searching for watermellon?

  • Lagerstrom

    Yawn…boring!
    Dear Mr Johnson,
    Will you grow a pair!
    Yours sincerely?
    Anders Lagerstrom.

    • SpawnTaviousJackson

      WE should take up a collection and buy him some kleenex

  • Brian

    It’s interesting that there’s not a word here about the modern blackface minstrelsy: hip-hop. You want to see something that makes blacks look bad while profiting from the depiction, NPR? Cue up some Lil Wayne.

    The same NPR totebaggers who decry the minstrel songs will be out grinding in ‘da clubbbb’ against some Bantu this weekend.

    Meanwhile, I’ll keep whistling Dixie.

  • SpawnTaviousJackson

    OH BOOO HOOO HOOOO!

  • SpawnTaviousJackson

    Who cares what a negro thinks? The author is a negro. This is a good example, actually, of how negroes do not really produce anything. He is paid by NPR sand this is the nonsense he tries to pass of as work.

  • ElComadreja

    Great song. Thanks for posting it. I’ve wanted to hear this tune ever since I read about it in the book “Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock and Roll” by Nick Tosches. This is going to get heavy rotation on my playlist.

  • MikeofAges

    Speaking of songs, I have seen and heard many lewd, offensive and risque knock offs and reworkings of many well-known songs. At this rate, we’ll have to ban everything eventually. Every word. Every phrase. Sad to say for them, though the PC faction may be able to ban the names of colors as each one racist and offensive, they will not be able to ban the colors themselves. But, as always, don’t say it too loud. Or they will spend billions trying to figure out a way.

  • sestamibi

    I am reminded of the Sawyer sisters lawsuit (which they justifiably lost) against Southwest Airlines several years ago. It seems that on a return flight from Las Vegas to Kansas City, they were irreparably traumatized by the flight attendant’s request to passengers (as takeoff was imminent) “eenie, meenie, minie, mo. Take a seat it’s time to go”. Their trauma, of course, was experienced because they were reminded of “catch a n*r by the toe”. Of course, the flight attendant, who was all of 22, wasn’t aware of the vicious racist history of this rhyme, and was simply trying to maintain Southwest’s program of humor on flights.
    Southwest is all business these days, as my last few flights have shown, but that is the price of PC. Presumably, the black male flight attendant I once heard do the safety spiel in rap (and had the passengers, including me, in stitches) has eliminated his act. Too bad.
    I also heard that jingle from an ice cream truck a few years ago, and it drove me up the wall with its repetition. I can’t imagine, though, that any more than a handful of people would know of its history. Indeed, these days, I can’t imagine even that all that many people would recognize it at “Turkey in the Straw” at all! Just another fishing expedition on the part of the race hustling industry.

  • Dr. Karl Stalin

    When the Ice Cream truck came down our street back in the 50s all the
    white kids would rush up to the window and buy their special treat. All
    of the black kids would steal our bikes.

  • cecilhenry

    the truth is soooooo shocking.

    Liberals need a good dose of it.