Yankee Doodle, keep it up,
Yankee Doodle Dandy...
"Yankee Doodle" is one of America's oldest and most endearing marching airs. It was written several years before the American Revolution, but like so much folk music, its exact origin is obscure.
In 1909, the American musicologist Oscar Sonneck set out to document the origins of this happy, impertinent tune. He discovered a reference to it in 1767's The Disappointment, one of the first American operas. The next year, a Boston newspaper article that discussed the arrival of a British warship mentioned that ". . . the 'Yankee Doodle' song was the Capital piece in their Band of Music." Tradition and other more official sources have it that the American version of the song was written, at least in part, by a Dr. Richard Schackburg, a British army surgeon during the French and Indian Wars while at the home of the Van Rensselaer family. Schackburg's lyrics were said to be composed to make fun of the colonials who fought alongside the British troops.
Music Division, Library of Congress.
There are many theories regarding the origins of the words "Yankee" and "Doodle." One theory suggests that "Yankee" (or "Yankey") was derived from "Nankey," which can be found in an unpleasant jingle about Oliver Cromwell. Another possibility holds that the Indians corrupted the pronunciation of "English," resulting in "Yengees." By the mid-1700s it certainly referred to America's English colonists.
"Doodle," as found in old English dictionaries, meant a sorry, trifling fellow; a fool or simpleton. "Dandy," on the other hand, survived also as a description of a gentleman of affected manners, dress, and hairstyle. All taken, "Yankee Doodle" is a comic song and a parody. Indeed, the British made fun of rag-tag American militiamen by playing "Yankee Doodle" even as they headed toward the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
Of humble origin and perhaps questionable in matters of lyrical "taste," "Yankee Doodle" has survived as one of America's most upbeat and humorous national airs. In the fife and drum state of Connecticut, it is the official state song. George M. Cohan revived the tune in his "Yankee Doodle Boy" (also known as "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy") of 1904. It should surprise no one that John Philip Sousa was immensely fond of this work. He employed it in many of his arrangements and patriotic fantasies. He even used it as a counter-melody in his march "America First."