The racist ice cream man song is being replaced with a joyful new one by the Wu-Tang's RZA
via Good Humor and the Library of Congress

Earlier this summer, Upworthy shared a story about the ugly racist past of the seemingly innocuous song played by a lot of ice cream trucks.

"Turkey in the Straw," is known to modern-day school children as, "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" But the melody was also used for the popular, and incredibly racist, 1900s minstrel songs, "Old Zip Coon" and "Ni**er Love a Watermelon."

Zip Coon was a stock minstrel show character who was used as a vehicle to mock free Black men. He was an arrogant, ostentatious man who wore flashy clothes and attempted to speak like affluent white members of society, usually to his own disparagement.


"Old Zip Coon"

OLD ZIP COON - 1834 - Performed by Tom Roush www.youtube.com

In the early 1900s, cards with racist depictions of Black people eating watermelons while making wide-eyed looks, were popular and inspired another racist song that used the melody: "Ni**er Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!"

Ni**er love a watermelon ha ha, ha ha!

Ni**er love a watermelon ha ha, ha ha!

For here, they're made with a half a pound of co'l

There's nothing like a watermelon for a hungry coon

"Ni**er Love a Watermelon"


The Truth About The Ice Cream Truck Jingle | Ni**er Love A Watermelon www.youtube.com


Minstrel music was popular in ice cream parlors at the turn of the century, so when Americans began moving to the suburbs after World War II, the music was played from ice cream trucks to recreate the feeling of the parlor.

Good Humor started the first ice cream truck in the '20s and had one of the largest fleets until it went retail-only. In 1978, it sold off its iconic trucks to independent contractors, some of which are still operating to this day.

Good Humor is still synonymous with the ice cream man, so the company decided to use its influence to help the ice cream truck industry replace "Turkey in the Straw" with a song that "brings joy to every community."

So it teamed up with RZA, the legendary producer, rapper, composer, and founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan. RZA has also scored a number of films, most notably "Kill Bill: Volume 1" (2003) and "Kill Bill: Volume 2" (2004).

The new jingle will be available to ice cream trucks in the U.S. starting in August through music boxes from Nichols Electronics, the sole manufacturer of electronic music boxes for ice cream trucks in the United States.

In the wake of a renewed discussion over the jingle's history, the company's owner, Mark Nichols, told Good Humor it would remove "Turkey in the Straw" from its music boxes.

Here's the new jingle.

Good Humor x RZA: A New Ice Cream Truck Jingle for a New Era www.youtube.com

Upworthy got the chance to talk with RZA about his new jingle, ice cream, and how we should deal with troublesome art and artists from the past.

Upworthy: How did this collaboration with Good Humor come about?

RZA: Since the ice cream truck jingle has a problematic history, Good Humor reached out to me to bring in a new jingle and a new vibe for a new era.

UP: What was your inspiration for the new song?

RZA: First and foremost, I was thinking about ice cream and joy. I wrote it in a major key so when a child and a parent hear it they both feel a sense of joy. I made sure the song was rooted in joy. And so my basic foundation was like, if I can get a joyous vibe in the melody then half of my job would be done. I just kept playing around until something felt joyous to me. I tested it on my wife and my son and they said, "It feels good."

UP: It's like you ran a test on your kid asking, "Will this get you running out of the door?"

RZA: Exactly. Everybody loves ice cream. When the ice cream truck comes to the neighborhood kids stop doing what they're doing, yo. I don't care if it's jump rope, hula-hooping, playing skully, hopscotch, whatever, you would stop, yo.

You'd abandon what you're doing to chase this truck down. And don't let the guy start moving before you get there, that means you gotta run 'til he stops at the next building.

UP: What immediately came to my mind after hearing about the project was the song, 'Ice Cream' by Raekown that you produced. Although, that song has a real minor-key feel.

RZA: I also have the song, "C.R.E.A.M," both of those have melodic piano, but this song had to have a really positive intention. But it's still gotta have some Wu-ism to it. So if you listen to it you'll hear that it is a major-key melody but I still go to the minor chord.

It is similar to a song with a chord progression of [Wu-Tang's] "Can it Be All So Simple?" I wanted to be sure that it had a taste of that Wu-ism in it, but not going dark at all.

The Story Behind the New Ice Cream Truck Jingle from Good Humor x RZA www.youtube.com

UP: Was there any thought given to the sound system that's on the ice cream truck?

RZA: We were privileged to have Nichols Electronics speakers sent to the studio so my mix engineer had a chance to demo it through the speaker so we know how it's gonna sound when these ice cream trucks get it in their hands. What's so funny is the song still has a little bit of bump that the normal jingle couldn't have.

UP: Did you give any consideration to the fact that the ice cream man is going to have to hear this song for eight hours a day while he's driving around?

RZA: I think the way this track was composed it's going to take a long time for him to get bored with it. You listen to my music, don't you notice something like years later?

UP: With every context you hear something different.

RZA: Yeah, so I consciously stuck a few things in there. There's some sound effects and strings underneath that you can't really hear at first listen. But after a while, he'll have fun exploring the track. I think the loop point is fun. It's like a conversation that doesn't end.

UP: I know you're a vegan, but as a kid, when the ice cream man came up the street, what did you line up for?

RZA: For me, strawberry shortcake. You got to imagine a kid who's economically depressed growing up. But I would go to the grocery store and pack bags and you could make yourself a dollar during the summer break. And if that ice cream truck comes, I knew where my dollar was going, yo. I would eat the outside layer first and then eat the ice cream. My buddy Ghost, [rapper Ghostface Killah] he was a toasted almond guy.

UP: Which member of the Wu-Tang has the biggest sweet tooth?

RZA: I still would give it to Ghost. He still has his sweet tooth.

via Good Humor

UP: These days people are reconsidering culture with problematic histories, such as "Turkey in the Straw." As an artist, how do you think society should come to grips with art or artists with questionable pasts?

RZA: I think that if we have a chance to right a wrong, we should. That's a blessing in life to be able to right your wrongs. As an artist myself, I don't think art should be censored, but you've got to be able to evolve.

Think of the guy who had to draw the solar system when we knew about three planets. He only drew from his life experience. Now years later, do we correct him? Yes.

I can look at myself and listen back to my old albums and you can hear the aggression. Later, you hear some of my composed pieces and you hear that I've been to other parts of the world, you hear that I understand other people's experiences.

Art has to evolve. If we made mistakes as artists in the past — and art always comes from the heart — then our hearts should be strong enough to accept our mistakes and focus on making things better for the generation we live in now.

UP: It seems like these days there are a lot of people that won't let people evolve. People get called out for something they did 20 years ago when they aren't the same person anymore.

RZA: You gotta let people evolve. The guy who first came out of the cave, if he would've stayed in we all would've stayed in. But he was smart enough to come out so you have to come out too, man.

UP: The reimagining of the ice cream truck song comes as part of a greater social justice movement. One of the things you're known for is being a strategic thinker. You launched a successful five-year-plan for The Wu, practiced martial arts, love chess, have written a lot on philosophy, and referenced the "Art of War" in your work.

What are your thoughts on how Americans are handling the current social justice movement and what strategies would you suggest?

RZA: I think it's healthy. I think it's a step in the right direction. The more we step in the right direction the further we get away from the wrong direction.

I grew up in school when we had to do a pledge of allegiance to the flag. I'm one of those kids who stood up, put his hand over his heart and did it every morning. And it says, "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." That's the pledge that we all took and we should all live up to that pledge.

To me, the strategy of finding ways to speak out for each other when one of us is being mistreated, I think it's very healthy. I look forward to the day when that pledge is upheld by all of us and enjoyed by all of us.

This interview was edited for time and clarity.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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