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CULTURE

Ice Cream Truck Song Gets A Makeover Due to Racist Past

Ice Cream Truck - Mr. Softie. New York City. Date: 5 July 2011, 06:46 Source: Ice Cream Truck - Mr Softie Author: Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia

Across the U.S., the ice cream truck song is a familiar sound during summer — but it has a racist past. Will drivers stop playing it?

The familiar melody is actually called “Turkey in the Straw”, and has racist origins. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death this year, which has spurred global protests against racial inequality, the Good Humor ice cream company decided to take action. Joining forces with rapper RZA, a member from popular hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan — a new tune is available to replace the old.

The process actually began in June, when Good Humor ice cream’s Instagram account made a post about the racist history of popular ice cream truck jingles, which have been playing for decades.

Good Humor followed up this past Thursday, saying it will help drivers learn about the racist roots of “Turkey in the Straw” and how to replace the music box in their trucks.

“Turkey in the Straw” was brought over to the United States from the United Kingdom during the 19th century. With roots to an Irish fiddle song, “The (Old) Rose Tree,” its lyrics vary between several versions but are generally nonsensical.

With the advent of traveling minstrel shows, an old pastime featuring white performers in blackface, the melody became entrenched in American pop culture — obtaining racist lyrics. In the 1830s, the minstrel performer George Washington Dixon popularized a song called “Zip C**n”. Set to the familiar tune, it is a caricature of a blackface character trying to join white society in the big city, in contrast to the dimwitted, rural blackface character whose name became infamous in 20th century America, Jim Crow.

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The song was then featured in ice cream parlors in the 1890s, where minstrel songs were often played — and as ice cream trucks became popular after World War II, the jingle followed suit.

“While these associations of “Turkey in the Straw” are not the only part of its legacy, it is undeniable that this melody conjures memories of its racist iterations,” Good Humor said in a statement.

RZA’s new jingle is finished: featuring no lyrics, bells chime over low drum beats, retaining the seemingly innocent sounds of ice cream truck songs. Good Humor says the new tune is available to drivers starting this month and is being added to industry standard ice cream truck music boxes.

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