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Today it is a bluegrass and country music standard. 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. The song falls into the idiom of previous minstrel music, relying on rhythm and text declamation as its primary motivation.
Minstrels could begin leaping about at the introduction and coda, beginning the full music at the vocal section. Nathanson called it "the best of what I have denominated the ancient negro ballads.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 claims that the name Dan Tucker is a combination of Emmett's own name and that of his dog.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.