Hip-hop legend RZA has created a new tune to replace a famous ice cream truck jingle, which has a racist history.
The Wu-Tang Clan artist said he is collaborating with ice cream vendor Good Humor to replace the widely known "Turkey in the Straw" tune. RZA made the announcement in a video posted to Twitter on Thursday, saying the jingle was used in American minstrel shows. As NPR reports, the tune borrows from that of a racist 1916 song from Colombia Records titled "N****r Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!"
"Do you remember that ice cream jingle?" the musician asked. "Of course — we all know it. I’m not gonna play it right now, though, because we come to find out that it has racist roots. But check this out. Good Humor they called me up and they was like, ‘We gotta do something about this, Riz. We can change the dynamics. We can make a new ice cream jingle for a new era.’”
— Good Humor (@GoodHumor) August 13, 2020
Good Humor also posted a statement on its website to further explain the reason for the new song.
"'Turkey in the Straw’s' melody originated from British and Irish folk songs, which had no racial connotations. But the song itself was first performed (and gained popularity) in American minstrel shows in the 1800s," the company stated. "Some songs using its same melody contained highly offensive, racist lyrics."
According to Good Humor, "minstrel songs like 'Turkey in the Straw' were commonly played in ice cream parlors, and later, adapted as ice cream truck jingles."
"It is undeniable that this melody conjures memories of its racist iterations," the company stated.
The new melody, which has been posted to Good Humor's website and social media accounts, is expected to be available to all ice cream truck drivers for free.
"For the first time in a long time, a new ice cream truck jingle will be made available to trucks all across the country in perpetuity," the artist said. "That means forever, you know what I mean. Like Wu-Tang is forever."
— Good Humor (@GoodHumor) August 14, 2020
Public policy scholar Theodore R. Johnson III dissected the history of the jingle in an article for NPR in 2014.
"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," Johnson wrote. "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."
Good Humor said it has not owned ice cream trucks since the 1970s and that it never created any jingles. But the company now wants to be part of the solution in addressing the controversial tune.
"We must acknowledge the history of the ice cream truck jingle, and take action to ensure ice cream trucks across the country continue to spread joy to everyone for the next 100 years," the company stated. "We’re making this song available to ice cream truck drivers nationwide and providing education on how to replace 'Turkey in the Straw' in their music boxes."