The Music of Early America
Although written several years before the American Revolution, "Yankee Doodle Dandy" was universally popular among both the rebels and British soldiers during the War.
Legend has it that the song first appeared as a nursery rhyme ridiculing England's Oliver Cromwell as "Nankee Doodle."
In America the song surfaced during the French and Indian War when the colonials joined forces with General Braddock at Niagara. The colonials were a motley crew, wearing furs and buckskins. British surgeon Richard Schuckburg during that war reportedly substituted new words for the old Cromwell song, changing Nankee to Yankee, making fun of the Americans fighting alongside the British troops.
In the song:
"Doodle" refers to "a sorry trifling fellow. A fool or simpleton." "Dandy," on the other hand, refers to "a gentleman of affected manners, dress and hairstyle." "Macaroni" was not a reference to the pasta but to "a fancy style of Italian dress imitated in England at the time."
The song expressed the perception of the British that a colonial could stick a feather in his coonskin cap and think he was as fashionable as any European. Thus the song was a parody proclaiming the colonials as country bumpkins.
Though the song held them up to ridicule, the colonials adopted the song as their own. Countless versions evolved, as many as 190 verses in all. In a display of irony.... when the British surrendered their forces at Yorktown to end the War, their band played "The World Turned Upside Down." The Americans played "Yankee Doodle."
The colonials may have been an army of ragtag farmers — under-equipped, under-clothed and rarely paid. But they defeated the largest, most powerful army in Europe to gain their freedom.