Oh! Susanna
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Oh! Susanna
"Oh! Susanna"
Oh! Susanna 1.jpg
Original sheet music (1848)
Song
Published1848
Stephen Foster

"Oh! Susanna" is a minstrel song by Stephen Foster (1826-1864), first published in 1848. It is among the most popular American songs ever written. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[1]

Background

In 1846, Stephen Foster moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and became a bookkeeper with his brother's steamship company. While in Cincinnati, Foster wrote "Oh! Susanna", possibly for his men's social club.[2][3] The song was first performed by a local quintet at a concert in Andrews' Eagle Ice Cream Saloon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 11, 1847.[4] It was first published by W. C. Peters & Co. in Cincinnati in 1848.[5] Blackface minstrel troupes performed the work, and, as was common at the time, many registered the song for copyright under their own names. As a result, it was copyrighted and published at least twenty-one times[6] from February 25, 1848, through February 14, 1851.[3] Foster earned just $100 ($2,774 in 2016 dollars[7]) for the song,[8] but its popularity led the publishing firm Firth, Pond & Company to offer him a royalty rate of two cents per copy of sheet music sold,[3] convincing him to become the first fully professional songwriter in the United States.[9][10]

The name Susanna may refer to Foster's deceased sister Charlotte, whose middle name was Susannah.[11]

Song

The song blends together a variety of musical traditions. The opening line refers to "a banjo on my knee", but the song takes its beat from the polka, which had just reached the U.S. from Europe.[4][12] Writer and musician Glenn Weiser suggests that the song incorporates elements of two previous compositions, both published in 1846: "Mary Blane," by Billy Whitlock, and "Rose of Alabama," by Silas S. Steele. He points out that the melody of the verse of "Oh! Susanna" resembles that of "Mary Blane," and the opening of the chorus of "Oh! Susanna" is almost identical to that of "Rose of Alabama." Moreover, the story lines of both "Oh! Susanna" and "The Rose of Alabama" involve a lover going from one Deep Southern state to another with his banjo in search of his sweetheart, which suggests that Foster got the inspiration for his lyrics from Steele's song.[13]

The first two phrases of the melody are based on the major pentatonic scale.[14]About this soundPlay 

The lyrics are largely nonsense,[3] as characterized by lines such as "It rain'd all night the day I left, The weather it was dry, The sun so hot I froze to death..." (first verse) and "I shut my eyes to hold my breath..." (second verse). It is one of the few songs by Foster that use the word "nigger" (others are "Old Uncle Ned" and "Oh! Lemuel", both also among Foster's early works), which appears in the second verse ("De lectric fluid magnified, And killed five hundred nigger.").

Popularity and adaptations

The song is not only one of Stephen Foster's best-known songs,[15] but also one of the best-known American songs.[16] No American song had sold more than 5,000 copies before; "Oh! Susanna" sold over 100,000.[17] After its publication, it quickly became known as an "unofficial theme of the Forty-Niners",[15] with new lyrics about traveling to California with a "washpan on my knee".[6] A traditional Pennsylvania Dutch version uses Foster's melody but replaces the lyrics entirely.[18]

(Lyrics themselves:)
1. I come from Alabama with my Banjo on my knee--
I'm goin' to Louisiana my true love for to see.
It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry;
The sun so hot I froze to death--Susanna, don't you cry.

(Chorus:)
Oh! Susanna, do not cry for me;
I come from Alabama, with my Banjo on my knee.

2. I jumped aboard the telegraph and traveled down the river,
Electric fluid magnified, and killed five hundred nigger.
The bullgine bust, the horse ran off, I really thought I'd die;
I shut my eyes to hold my breath--Susanna, don't you cry.

Chorus

(This verse is rarely sung in its original form today; to avoid the racially offensive language of the original lyrics, the word "nigger" is often replaced with "chigger".)

3. I had a dream the other night, when everything was still;
I thought I saw Susanna dear, a comin' down the hill.
The buckwheat cake was in her mouth, a tear was in her eye,
I says, "I've coming from the South"-Susanna, don't you cry.

Chorus

(An unauthorized[] fourth verse was added:[19])
4. I soon will be in New Orleans, and then I'll look all around,
And when I find Susanna, I'll fall upon the ground.
But if I do not find her, this darkie'll surely die,
And when I'm dead and buried--Susanna, don't you cry.

Modern version

Oh, I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee!
Going to Louisiana, my true love for to see
Oh Susanna! Oh don't you cry for me!
For I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee
It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry
The sun so hot I froze to death, Susanna don't you cry
Oh Susanna! Oh don't you cry for me!
For I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee!

Optional third verse

I had a dream the other night, when everything was still
I thought I saw Susanna dear a-comin' down the hill
A red red rose was in her hand, a tear was in her eye
I said I come from dixieland, Susanna don't you cry!
Oh Susanna! Oh, don't you cry for me!
For I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee
I soon will be in New Orleans, and then I'll look all around,
And when I find Susanna, I'll fall upon the ground.
But if I do not find her, then surely about to die,
And when I'm dead and buried--Susanna, don't you cry.
Oh Susanna! Oh, don't you cry for me!
For I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee

Merrie Melodies version

This version was sung exclusively in the 1942 Merrie Melodies short, "The Wacky Wabbit":

Oh! Susanna, don't you cwy for me!
I'm gonna get me wots of gold out on the Wone Pwaiwie.
Gold is where you find it and when I find that stuff,
I'll dig and dig and dig and dig.
I'll never get enough.
I twamp the pwaiwies and the pwains.
I twudge each weawy mile.
I'll twamp and twudge and twudge and twamp
Until I make my pile.
Oh! Susanna, don't you cwy for me!
I'm gonna dig up lots of gold, V for victowy.
I'm a wagged, wugged wover of the wild unwuwy West.
Of all the things I haven't got, I wike gold the best.
Oh, it wained all night of the day I weft, the weather was so dwy;
It was so warm I fwoze to death--Susanna, don't you cwy.
Oh! Susanna, don't you cwy for me!
I'm gonna get me wots of gold, V for victowy!

Notable recordings

One of the earliest recordings, using the original "killed five hundred Nigger" lyrics, was released by Harry C. Browne in 1916 (Columbia COL A-2218). Browne also released other openly racist songs that same year, including Nigger Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!.

The song is sung by a band in Wilson (1944) during the 1912 Democratic National Convention.

A 1955 novelty recording of the song by The Singing Dogs reached #22 on the US Billboard Pop Singles chart.[20]

A humorous recording of "Oh! Susanna" was the last track on the second album by The Byrds, Turn! Turn! Turn!, in 1965.[21][22]

Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album 101 Gang Songs (1961).

James Taylor also included a version of the song on his second album, Sweet Baby James, in 1970.[23]

In 1963, The Big 3 recorded Tim Rose's composition "The Banjo Song," which sets Foster's lyrics to a completely new melody.[24]Neil Young and Crazy Horse covered Rose's version on their 2012 album Americana.[25]

The website JibJab used the tune to create a song called "Big Box Mart", about big box stores.

The alt-folk music group The Be Good Tanyas recorded an adaptation of Oh Susana on their 2000 album "Blue Horse".

The song was parodied in The Simpsons episode "The Old Blue Mayor She Ain't What She Used to Be".

References

  1. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on 13 August 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  2. ^ Richard Jackson. 1974. Stephen Foster song book: original sheet music of 40 songs. Courier Dover Press. p. 177.
  3. ^ a b c d "Foster Stephen C(ollins)", Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Gale via HighBeam Research, 2001, archived from the original on 2013-10-11, retrieved Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)(subscription required)
  4. ^ a b Zwerdling, Daniel (1997-09-13), "Stephen Foster", NPR Weekend All Things Considered, National Public Radio via HighBeam Research, archived from the original on 2013-10-11, retrieved Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)(subscription required)
  5. ^ "Oh! Susanna". 2008. Retrieved September 2011. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  6. ^ a b Behe, Rege (2009-06-28), "Stephen Foster really did write songs the whole world sang.", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Trib Total Media, Inc. via Questia Online Library, retrieved (subscription required)
  7. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800-". Retrieved 2019.
  8. ^ Cahill, Greg (2008-11-14), "Oh! Stephen Foster", Pacific Sun, Pacific Sun via HighBeam Research, archived from the original on 2013-10-11, retrieved , But popularity didn't translate into success. His ebullient "Oh! Susanna" became the theme song of the Gold Rush, but Foster earned just $100 for that hit because crooked publishers failed to pay his royalties. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)(subscription required)
  9. ^ Marks, Rusty (2001-04-22), "ON TELEVISION: Stephen Foster: Quintessential songwriter lived in music, died in ruin", Sunday Gazette-Mail, Gazette Daily Inc. via HighBeam Research, archived from the original on 2013-10-11, retrieved , The song, written in 1847, soon spread throughout the country. Foster decided to become a full-time songwriter, a vocation no one had bothered to pursue until then. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)(subscription required)
  10. ^ PITTSBURGH NATIVE SON AND SONGWRITER STEPHEN FOSTER TO BE INDUCTED INTO NASHVILLE SONGWRITERS HALL OF FAME OCT. 17., US Fed News Service, Including US State News. The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. via HighBeam Research, 2010-10-16, archived from the original on 2013-10-11, retrieved Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)(subscription required)
  11. ^ Michael Saffle. 2000. Perspectives on American music, 1900-1950 Taylor & Francis. p. 382.
  12. ^ Gross, Terry (2010-04-16), "The Lyrics And Legacy Of Stephen Foster", NPR Fresh Air, National Public Radio via HighBeam Research, archived from the original on 2014-08-08, retrieved , Mr. EMERSON: I think that Stephen Foster really did create popular music as we still recognize it today. He did it because he took together all these strands of the American experience. That song is extremely Irish in its origins, just as other songs are extremely African-American, just as others are extremely Italian and operatic, or sometimes German, and even Czechoslovakian. For instance, the beat of "Oh! Susanna" is the beat of a polka. He's clearly effectively merged them into a single music. And I think he merged them in way that appeals to the multicultural mongrel experience of America in its history and culture. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)(subscription required)
  13. ^ "Oh! Susanna by Stephen Foster -- Likely Origins". Celticguitarmusic.com. Retrieved .
  14. ^ Benward & Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p.37. Seventh Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0.
  15. ^ a b Tuleja, Tad (1994), "Oh, Susanna", The New York Public Library Book of Popular Americana, Macmillan Reference USA via HighBeam Research, archived from the original on 2014-06-11, retrieved Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)(subscription required)
  16. ^ "MEMORABILIA COLLECTION HONORS COMPOSER MUSICIAN WROTE 'OH, SUSANNA'", The Cincinnati Post, Dialog LLC via HighBeam Research, 2002-03-21, archived from the original on 2014-06-11, retrieved Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)(subscription required)
  17. ^ Stephen Foster Archived 2012-10-30 at the Wayback Machine, Meet the Musicians; accessed 2012.09.11.
  18. ^ Lieder der Pennsylvania Dutch (II), retrieved
  19. ^ Not evidence of lack of authorization per se (so cit-needed tag should not be removed) but the 4th verse is not present in the first edition published as scanned by the Library of Congress, one does note.
  20. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2009), Top Pop Singles 1955-2008, Record Research, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  21. ^ Interview with Roger McGuinn of the Byrds - February 1970, Vincent Flanders: His Personal Web Site, retrieved
  22. ^ "Turn! Turn! Turn!", Allmusic, retrieved
  23. ^ "Sweet Baby James", Allmusic, retrieved
  24. ^ "Oh Susanna (The Banjo Song)", Allmusic, retrieved
  25. ^ "Americana - Neil Young & Crazy Horse", Allmusic.com, retrieved

External links


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