Few people realize how many times they have heard the traditional British song “The Old Rose Tree.” The omnipresent song serves as the central melody for nursey rhymes, “Do Your Ears Hang Low” and “Turkey in the Straw.” Hank Williams bemoaned his doomed relationship in “Why Don’t You Love Me” over a sample of the English staple. Rapper Jibbs even charted in the Top 10 when he interpolated it on 2006’s “Chain Hang Low”. For children everywhere, the instrumental loop announces incoming ice cream trucks. The only version you don’t hear is the one that started it all. There is a good reason for that.
In the late 1820s, the “Zip Coon” was one of the most notorious individuals in minstrel shows. A cosmopolitan counterpart to the infamous caricature Jim Crow, the blackface character mocked free black man with exaggerated verbiage and gawdy outfits. In 1834, the derogatory representation was immortalized in the song “Old Zip Coon.” Decades later, “Turkey in the Straw” removed the offensive text for a more digestible tale of whacky poultry. That version is responsible for the limitless proliferation in popular consciousness.