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Old Dan Tucker

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Wikipedia article

"'Old Dan Tucker,'" also known as "'Ole Dan Tucker,'" "'Dan Tucker,'" and other variants, is an American popular song. Its origins remain obscure; the tune may have come from oral tradition, and the words may have been written by songwriter and performer Dan Emmett. The blackface troupe the Virginia Minstrels popularized "Old Dan Tucker" in 1843, and it quickly became a minstrel hit, behind only "Miss Lucy Long" and "Mary Blane" in popularity during the antebellum period. "Old Dan Tucker" entered the folk vernacular around the same time. Today it is a bluegrass and country music standard. It is no. 390 in the Roud Folk Song Index.

The first sheet music edition of "Old Dan Tucker," published in 1843, is a song of boasts and nonsense in the vein of previous minstrel hits such as "Jump Jim Crow" and "Gumbo Chaff." In exaggerated Black Vernacular English, the lyrics tell of Dan Tucker's exploits in a strange town, where he fights, gets drunk, overeats, and breaks other social taboos. Minstrel troupes freely added and removed verses, and folk singers have since added hundreds more. Parodies and political versions are also known.

The song falls into the idiom of previous minstrel music, relying on rhythm and text declamation as its primary motivation. Its melody is simple and the harmony little developed. Nevertheless, contemporary critics found the song more pleasant than previous minstrel fare. Musicologist Dale Cockrell argues that the song represents a transition between early minstrel music and the more European-style songs of minstrelsy's later years.


' shows the Dan Tucker character as a rural black man.

"Old Dan Tucker" as originally published exemplifies the masculine boasting songs that predominated in early minstrelsy.Crawford 211.Mahar 15, 228 Modern analysts emphasize the song's rawness, racism, and disdain for social taboos. In ersatz Black Vernacular English,Cockrell 156.McCulloch-Williams, quoted in Lomax and Lomax 259. the song uses short, active words such as 'runnin' and 'cryin,' to portray Dan Tucker as a rough-and-ready black man in the mold of Jim Crow, Gumbo Chaff,Cockrell 155. and ultimately the tall tale frontiersman:Stearns and Stearns 4344.

Tucker is an animalistic character, driven by sex, violence, and strong drink. He is ugly, unrefined, and unintelligent, even infantilized.Lott 143144. As a stranger in town, his devil-may-care actions show his problems with or ambivalence to adapting to local mores.Mahar 228. More broadly, Tucker's disdain for social norms allows the song to send up respectable middle class American society, as evidenced by the final verse:Crawford 208, 211.

Other verses appear that do not go along with the main narrative. Their lines seem to be confused jabber, due to the unfamiliar slang and products of the time. Perhaps it was written to extend the rhyme scheme.Mahar 230. The third verse is one example:

Dan Tucker is both the teller and subject of the story. Verses 1, 3, and 5 of the 1843 edition are in the first person, whereas verses 2, 4, and 7 are in the third. This reflects the song's intended performance by an entire minstrel troupe. The lead minstrel played Tucker and began the song, but backup singers took over at times to allow Tucker to act out the scenario, dance, and do another comedy bit.Mahar 15. There was probably an element of competition to the various dance and music solos. The third-person verses also allowed for commentary to suggest to the audience how they were to judge the character and his antics.

Individual companies probably selectively performed verses from the song or added new ones.Mahar 229230. For example, the Virginia Serenaders added verses about the Irish, Dutch, and French.Mahar 397 note 40. At least four versions of the song were published with different lyrics during the 19th century.Winans 149. A parody called "Clar de Track" appears in some playbills and songsters.Mahar 367.

Folk versions

"Old Dan Tucker" entered American folklore soon after it was written. Its simple and malleable nature means that singers may begin or end it at any point or invent new verses on the spot.McCulloch-Williams, Martha, letter to the 'New York Sun,' quoted in Lomax and Lomax 258. Hundreds of folk verses have been recorded.Lomax and Lomax 261. This is a common folk variant:

A common chorus variant goes:

For decades "Old Dan Tucker" was used as part of a dancing game.Casey 41. The players formed a ring, and one man moved to the center. He selected women to swing around according to the lyrics:

The third woman chosen then became his new partner, and her old partner now took the role of "Old Dan".Gardner 116.

These folk versions can be quite ribald. This one, recalled by a man from his boyhood in Benton County, Arkansas, in the 1910s, is one example:

The above version was recorded by Oscar Brand, with addition of the following verses.[http://www.horntip.com/mp3/1960s/1969ca_the_earthy_side_(LP)/27_old_dan_tucker.htm Old Dan Tucker]

Another version, sung by Charles Edward Carpentera Lawrenceburg, Tennessee business man and World War II Veteran (born in Crewstown, TN)to his children and grandchildren in Middle Tennessee during the mid- to late 1900s speaks of Old Dan Tucker's love of a hard drink. The last line appears to have been sung in the first person ("Oh my goodness, what'll I do?):

"Old Dan Tucker" entered the folklore of slaves as well. This version from Orange County, North Carolina, was recorded in the 1850s:

It has been suggested that "died with a toothache in his heel" could be a reference to reactive arthritis.

Political versions

' "Get off the Track!" puts abolitionist lyrics to the tune of "Old Dan Tucker".

The original "Old Dan Tucker" and most folk variants are not political in nature. However, as early as 1844, the Hutchinson Family Singers were performing "Get off the Track!" to its tune, billed as "A song for emancipation"Crawford 257. One verse and the chorus say:

That same year, supporters of Henry Clay at a Whig rally sang a version that makes references to Clay ("Ole Kentucky"), Martin Van Buren, and James Buchanan:

Another Clay version has the following lyrics (which also has the advantage of explaining the pronunciation of Clay's vice presidential candidate):

In 1856, supporters of John C. Frmont's run for the Republican Party nomination adopted the tune as his campaign song with the changed refrain "Get out the way, old Buchanan".May 74. William Jennings Bryan's campaign song for the 1900 Democratic National Convention in Kansas City, Missouri, changed the lyrics to say:Welsch 7879.

A version popular during the American Civil War adds references to Abraham Lincoln:


"Old Dan Tucker" is a breakdown, a dance song wherein the rhythmic accent falls on the second and fourth beats rather than on the third.Cantwell 124. The song is largely Anglo-American in nature, although it has black influences. Its repetitive melodic idiom matches that of earlier minstrel standards, such as "Jump Jim Crow," "Coal Black Rose," and "Old Zip Coon."Crawford 206.Lott 177178.

The song consists of 28 bars. It begins with a boisterous eight-bar introduction. Four bars follow to frame the coda. The remainder consists of sixteen bars with lyrics, half devoted to verse, and half to refrain. Each phrase gives way directly to the next with no rests between sections.Crawford 208.

Rhythm is perhaps the most important component of "Old Dan Tucker." It begins with a cadenced introduction and little melody.Crawford 210. Even when the tune begins in earnest, it is flat and non-harmonized and does little more than provide a beat on which words are uttered.Finson, John W. (1994). 'The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-century American Popular Song.' New York: Oxford University Press. Quoted in Mahar 397 note 41. The refrain is syncopated in a way that had only previously been used in the minstrel song "Old Zip Coon". The intense rhythm on the line "Get out the way!" generates a forward momentum and is answered by instruments in one example of the song's black-influenced call and response.

"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. Minstrels could begin leaping about at the introduction and coda, beginning the full music at the vocal section. Performers probably included instrumental versions of the chorus while they played, a rare practice in early minstrelsy.

Musicologist Dale Cockrell argues that "Old Dan Tucker" represents a bridge between the percussive blackface songs of the 1830s and the more refined compositions of songwriters such as Stephen Foster. Cockrell says that, unlike previous minstrel songs, "Old Dan Tucker" is meant for more than just dancing; its tune is developed enough to stand on its own.Cockrell 156157. Contemporary critics certainly noticed the difference. Y. S. Nathanson called it "the best of what I have denominated the ancient negro ballads. The melody is far superior to anything that had preceded it."Nathanson, Y. S. (January 1855). "Negro MinstrelsyAncient and Modern." 'Putnam's Monthly; a Magazine of American Literature, Science, and Art 5,' no. 25. P. 74. Quoted in Cockrell 156. Nathanson compared the song to works by Gaetano Donizetti and Daniel Auber.


, where he retired in his later years.

The origin of the music of "Old Dan Tucker" has always been obscure, and no sheet music edition from 1843, the year of its first publication, names a composer. The first performance of the tune (but not lyrics) may have happened as early as 1841.Nathan 301. The song has been alleged to refer to the notorious Daniel Tucker (1575-1625) of Jamestown Colony, Virginia, and Bermuda. The music may be from the oral tradition or may have been a product of collaboration.

"Old Dan Tucker" has been credited to at least three different songwriters: Dan Emmett, J. R. Jenkins, and Henry Russell.Tracy 19. In his old age, Emmett related the traditional story to his biographer, H. Ogden Wintermute: "I composed 'Old Dan Tucker' in 1830 or 1831, when I was fifteen or sixteen years old."Quoted in Chase 239. The biography says that Emmett first played the song in public at a performance by a group of traveling entertainers. They lacked a fiddle player, and the local innkeeper suggested young Emmett to fill in. Emmett played "Old Dan Tucker" to the troupe manager's liking, and he debuted on the Mount Vernon, Ohio village green in blackface to perform the song on the Fourth of July. Wintermute says that the name Dan Tucker is a combination of Emmett's own name and that of his dog.Canebrake Minstrels.Knowles 233, note 13. However, there is no evidence for any of this.Rammel 91. Instead, Emmett may merely have written the words. Even these seem to partially derive from an earlier minstrel song called "Walk Along John" or "Oh, Come Along John", first published in various songsters in the early 1840s.Rammel 90. Some verses have clear echoes in versions of "Old Dan Tucker":

The Charles Keith company published "Old Dan Tucker" in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1843. The sheet music credits words to Dan Emmett but says that the song is from "Old Dan Emmit's Original Banjo Melodies."Quoted in Crawford 206. The lack of attribution of the melody may be another sign that Emmett did not write it.

Possible slave origin

is buried in Elbert County, Georgia, is a tourist attraction due to the minister's possible connection to the song.

A story dating to at least 1965 says that "Old Dan Tucker" was written by slaves about a man named Daniel Tucker who lived in Elbert County, Georgia. Tucker was a farmer, ferryman, and minister who appears in records from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The story, as related by Mrs. Guy Rucker, the great-great-granddaughter of one of Tucker's neighbors, claims that Tucker became quite well liked by the slaves in his area through his ministry to them.Wilcox 28.

According to this interpretation, the lyrics address Tucker directly. The chorus, "You're too late to get your supper" is a kindhearted taunt to a man who often arrived after dark, forcing his hosts to scrape up a meal for him. The song's occasional lewdness is explained by the natural impromptu nature of its supposed origin.Wilcox 2829.

"Old Dan Tucker" does show evidence of black influence. For example, bizarre imagery in folk versions of the song (e.g., "toothache in his heel") may be a sign of legitimate black input (or of someone poking fun of slaves who had an incomplete knowledge of English). "Old Dan Tucker" most closely resembles African music in its call-and-response refrain.

Daniel Tucker was buried in Elbert County in 1818.Wilcox 29. The Elbert County Chamber of Commerce today promotes his grave as a tourist attraction due to his possible connection with the character from the song.Elbert County Chamber of Commerce.


, seen here in a detail from cover of 'The Celebrated Negro Melodies, as Sung by the Virginia Minstrels,' first performed "Old Dan Tucker" in 1843.

In December 1842 and January 1843, Dan Emmett portrayed the character Old Dan Tucker in solo and duo performances; the playbills do not indicate whether he included the song in his act.Nathan 114. The Virginia Minstrels probably made "Old Dan Tucker" a regular part of their show beginning with their first performance at the Bowery Amphitheatre on February 6, 1843. Their minstrel show also included a comic scene loosely based on the song, "Dan Tucker on Horseback," about a black riding master. The piece starred Richard Pelham in the title role and Frank Brower as a black clown.Nathan 118119. "Old Dan Tucker" did not appear on a Virginia Minstrels playbill until a March 7 and 8 performance at Boston's Masonic Temple. There, the playbill described it as "OLD DAN TUCKER, a Virginian Refrain, in which is described the ups and downs of Negro life."Quoted in Nathan 119. As early as February 15, Emmett billed himself as "Old Dan Emmett."'New York Herald', 2/15/1843, p. 3.

By the end of March, "Old Dan Tucker" was a hit, and it quickly became the Virginia Minstrels' most popular song.Nathan 121. Robert Winans found the song on 49% of the minstrel playbills he surveyed from the 18431847 period (behind only "Miss Lucy Long"),Winans 148. and research by musicologist William J. Mahar suggests that it was behind only "Mary Blane" and "Lucy Long" in its frequency of publication in antebellum songsters. The next year, Dan Tucker returned in the popular "Ole Bull and Old Dan Tucker," which pits him against Ole Bull in a contest of skill.Mahar 22, 370 note 5. Sequels such as "De New Ole Dan Tucker" and "Old Dan Tucker's Wedding" followed.Lott 267, note 3. Other companies adopted Tucker for comedy sketches, such as burlesques of 'La sonnambula' by Buckley's Serenaders in 1850 and Sanford's Opera Troupe in 1853.Mahar 107.

The song became so identified with Emmett and the Virginia Minstrels that it became part of their foundation myth. Billy Whitlock and George B. Wooldridge both claimed that the troupe members played "Old Dan Tucker" in their first impromptu performance together:

... as if by accident, each one picked up his tools and joined in a chorus of "Old Dan Tucker," while Emmett was playing and singing. It went well, and they repeated it without saying a word. Each did his best, and such a rattling of the principal and original instruments in a minstrel band was never heard before.'New York Clipper,' April 13, 1878. Quoted in Nathan 116.

Emmett repeated this story in the May 19, 1877, 'New York Clipper,' although other details changed.Nathan 117. The press began to refer to Emmett as "Ole Dan Tucker," and Emmett eventually adopted the nickname. The Virginia Minstrels sometimes went by "Ole Dan Tucker and Co."Lawrence 232 note 26. They were called "Old Dan Tucker & Co.," either by themselves or by the press, as early as February 16, 1843.'New York Herald,' 2/16/1843, p. 3.

The song's disdain for the customs of the upper classes hit a chord with working class audiences. On January 28, 1843, 'The New York Sporting Whip' reported that the song had been adopted by a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, street gang called the Hallow Guards. As their leader, Stovepipe Bill, led them against a military raid, he sang the verses followed by the gang singing the chorus.Cockrell 200 note 62. Two years later, 'The Knickerbocker' remarked, "At this present moment, a certain ubiquitous person seems to be in the way of the whole people of these United States simultaneously."'The Knickerbocker,' 1845, quoted in 'The Black Perspective in Music' (1975), pp. 8788; quoted in turn in Crawford 210 note 23. Nathanson claimed that "Old Dan Tucker" had "been sung, perhaps, oftener than any melody ever written."Quoted in Nathan 179 note 17.

In 1871, 28 years after its first published edition, 'Board and Trade' listed editions of "Old Dan Tucker" in print from seven different publishers. The song had by default fallen into the public domain.Crawford 870871 note 21. In later decades, "Old Dan Tucker" became a standard of bluegrass and country music,Cantwell 104.Malone 173. with recordings by such artists as Fiddlin' John Carson, Uncle Dave Macon, Pete Seeger, and Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers.Waltz and Engle.



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* Elbert County Chamber of Commerce (no date). 'Old Dan Tucker'. Tourist pamphlet.

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*Mahar, William J. (1999). 'Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture'. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

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* Rammel, Hal (1990). 'Nowhere in America: The Big Rock Candy Mountain and Other Comic Utopias'. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

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* Waltz, Robert B., and Engle, David G. (2006). "[http://www.csufresno.edu/folklore/ballads/R521.html Old Dan Tucker] ". The Ballad Index.

* Welsch, Roger L. (1966). 'A Treasury of Nebraska Folklore'. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

* Wilcox, Herbert (FebruaryMarch 1965). "'Old Dan Tucker Was a Grand Old Man': And He Really Lived in Elbert County in the Good Old Days". 'Georgia Magazine'.

* Winans, Robert B. (1996). "Early Minstrel Show Music, 18431852", 'Inside the Minstrel Mask: Readings in Modern Minstrelsy'. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press. .

* Yetman, Norman R., ed. (2000). 'Voices from Slavery: 100 Authentic Slave Narratives'. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

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