I can’t remember the last time I saw an ice cream truck in my town, but growing up I was all too familiar with the little jingle it always played. But thankfully, my grandmother always informed us that the song was in fact racist. NPR did an extensive post on the origins of the jingle that many kids bop along to as the ice cream truck circles their blocks. That is unless your ice cream truck music has been updated to some hip-hop.
The is similar to the 19th century standard “Turkey in the Straw,” but eventually it made its way to ice cream trucks via minstrel songs, including one titled “Nigger Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!” That song, in turn, was related to a racist song oft performed in blackface, “Zip Coon,” which gave lyrics — though not its melody — to the Oscar winner “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.”
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 postbellum 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.)
Sorry to ruin your childhood.