We could soon hear an entirely different song emitting from the classic speakers of ice cream trucks on hot summer days. Good Humor worked with Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA to create a new ice cream truck tune after the company learned the old song has racist roots dating back to the 1800s.
The familiar melody, which gets plenty of kids and adults excited every summer because it signals cool treats are around the corner, is based on "Turkey in the Straw." The song was popular at minstrel shows 200 years ago — which featured white actors in Blackface acting out racial stereotypes — but Good Humor said it only recently learned of the song's racist lyrics and offensive history.
Many people were unaware of the history of the song until 2014 when Theodore R. Johnson wrote a viral NPR piece about it, explaining the minstrel shows of the 1800s had added racist lyrics to the tune, which originally came to the United States as British and Irish folk songs played on the fiddle.
"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," Johnson wrote in 2014.
Russel Lilly, a senior director at Unilever, the parent company of Good Humor, noted the company no longer owns ice cream trucks but wanted to be a part of the change.
"Good Humor invented the ice cream truck and is the maker of some of today's most iconic ice cream truck treats. And while we have not owned ice cream trucks since 1976, we wanted to be part of the solution and offer ice cream truck drivers a jingle that can bring joy to every community," Lilly said in a statement. "So, to create a new jingle, we knew we had to team up with the mastermind behind some of the most memorable melodies of our time."
Here's what the new jingle sounds like:
"I remember the days when I would hear that iconic ice cream truck jingle outside, and I would drop what I was doing to chase it down for a treat," he said in a statement. "When I learned about that song's problematic history this summer, I knew I had to get involved and do something about it."
It looks like RZA had plenty of fun composing the new jingle. Good Humor shared a behind the scenes video showing ice cream fans how the new song came to life.
“We wanted to make a melody that includes all communities — that’s good for every driver, every kid,” RZA added. “And I’m proud to say, 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."