Billy Golden: Popularized “Turkey in the Straw”

Billy Golden (William B. Shires, 1858-1926) was a blackface** comedian in minstrel shows and vaudeville, and later a recording artist. Originally from the river towns of Cincinnati and St. Louis, he entered show business around in 1874. His early partners included John Merritt, Billy Draiton, and his wife May Golden. While performing in an act called “Brightlights”produced by the team of Bailess and Kennedy, he became associated with the popular tune “Turkey in the Straw”, which he recorded in 1890s on the Berliner label.  It was a bestselling release; he would record the song several times over the years for various labels. In 1907 he formed a team with comedian Joe Hughes called Golden and Hughes; they were one of the first teams to record in minstrel dialect. In addition to Hughes, Golden also recorded with Jim Marlowe and Billy Heins, and as a solo performer. His full discography is here.

**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad. 

To learn more more about vaudeville please read  No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.

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