Musical Theatre – Popular American Tunes

Question: Research the history of popular tunes “Old Dan Tucker”, “Turkey in the Straw”, or “Oh Susannah!”. Who composed these tunes, and what messages, either overt or covert, do they convey? What are the implications of contemporary performances of such repertoire?


Old Dan Tucker, Turkey in the Straw and Oh Susannah are popular American songs. There are also referred to as minstrel songs as they were used in Minstrel shows and performances. Minstrel shows were a form of entertainment featuring songs, dances, and comic dialogue in highly conventionalized patterns, usually performed by white actors in blackface.

Old Dan tucker was composed by Daniel Decatur Emmett. The lyrics of the song tell of Dan’s Tucker exploits in a strange town,where he fights, gets drunk, overeats and breaks other social taboos. “Old Dan Tucker” was of course, intended for stage performance. The verses are not only to be played but also acted out and danced to.

Turkey in the Straw was composed by David W. Guion. Turkey in the straw has been associated with various stereotypes. The tune played by ice cream truck is associated with Turkey in the straw. It has been revealed to carry virulently racist words.Most Americans probably recognize the tune, and associate it with stereotypes of rural southerners and westerners, mostly white, doing square dances on farms and in mountain hollers. Specifically, it has been used to carry virulently racist words.


Oh Susanna was composed by Stephen Foster. Susanna which was written prior to the discovery of gold in California,  became both traveling music and an anthem that expressed the adventuresome spirit of Americas gold-seeking Forty Niners. However, it was discovered that the original lyrics contained racist slurs. Stephen Foster wrote Oh Susanna! in the black “plantation” dialect that was common to the genre but is extremely racially offensive by today’s standards

Blackface minstrelsy was America’s most popular form of live entertainment in the 1840s and 1850s. It was the first uniquely American theatrical form . Blackface characters generally portrayed African Americans in comic exaggerations.Along with expressions of race, minstrelsy embodied ideas of class struggle and misogyny. And, while often reducing African Americans to cruel stereotypes, the success of minstrelsy was an indication of the genuine interest of working-class white men in the music and culture of blacks.

Although these songs are very popular and embraced by a large group of people, performance of these songs ridicule a whole race of people and should be prohibited.

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