“Oh! Susanna”

Author: Stephen C. Foster
Earliest date: 1848
Keywords: love travel dream humorous
Found in: US(SE)

Description

Nonsense song about a man going to see his beloved Susanna. The singer tells his love, "Oh Susanna, Oh! don't you cry for me, I've come from Alabama, wid my banjo on my knee." The song describes the impossible means he took to reach her

Supplemental text

Oh! Susanna
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

From sheet music published 1848 by C. Holt Jr. This printing
is reported to have been unauthorized. Title page inscribed
                     MUSIC OF THE
                      ORIGINAL
                       CHRISTY
                      MINSTRELS
                        THE
                OLDEST ESTABLISHED BAND
                       in the
                    United States
AS ARRANGED AND SUNG BY THEN WITH DISTINGUISHED SUCCESS
                     at all their
                      CONCERTS
                                      Edwin P. Christy.

I came from Alabama
wid my banjo on my knee,
I'm g'wan to Lousiana
My true love for to see,
It rain'd all night the day I left,
The weather it was dry,
The sun so hot  I froze to death;
Susanna, dont you cry.

CHORUS.
Oh! Susanna, Oh! don't you cry for me,
I've come from Alabama, wid my banjo on my knee.

      2
I jumped aboard de telegraph,
And trabbelled down de riber,
De Lectric fluid magnified,
And killed five hundred Nigger
De bullgine bust, de horse run off,
I realy thought I'd die;
I shut my eyes to hold my breath,
Susanna, dont you cry.
   Oh! Susanna -- etc.

      3
I had a dream the odder night
When ebery ting was still;
I thought I saw Susanna,
A coming down de hill.
The buckwheat cake war in her mouth,
The tear was in her eye,
Says I'm coming from de South,
Susanna, dont you cry.
  Oh! Susanna -- etc.

      4
I soon will be in New Orleans,
And den I'll look all round,
And when I find Susanna,
I'll fall upon the ground.
But if I do not find her,
Dis darkie 'I surely die,
And when I'm dead and buried,
Susanna dont you cry.
  Oh! Susanna -- etc.

Notes

This song is one of the best examples of Foster's bad luck as a businessman. The first (unauthorized) printing never mentioned Foster's name, though it associates the song with the Christy Minstrels. Foster then gave the piece away; the next printing had his name on it, but if he received any money at all, it was a flat up-front fee.

This was one of Foster's very earliest pieces, and (along with "Uncle Ned") one of his first big hits. According to Bernard DeVoto, _The Year of Decision: 1846_, Little, Brown and Company, 1943, p. 134, 'in March of [1846] a twenty-year-old Pittsburg youth failed of appointment at West Point, and so at the end of the year he went to keep books in his brother's commission house at Cincinnati. He took with him the manuscripts of three songs, all apparently written in this year, all compact of the minstrel-nigger tradition. One celebrates a lubly collud gal, Lou'siana Belle. In another an old nigger has no wool on the top of his head in the place whar de wool ought to grow.... And in the third American pioneering was to find its leitmotif for all time: it was 'Oh Susanna!'"

The early popularity of this song seems to be indicated by the existence of a Gold Rush version, a fragment of which is quoted by Laura Ingalls Wilder in _Little House in the Big Woods_ (chapter 13):

Oh, Susi-an-na, don't you cry for me,

I'm going to Cal-i-for-ni-a,

The gold dust for to see. - RBW

Same tune

Cross references

Recordings

References

  1. RJackson-19CPop, pp. 152-155, "Oh! Susanna" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. BrownIII 408, "Oh, Susanna!" (2 texts plus 2 excerpts and mention of 4 more; the "E" text has a chorus from elsewhere)
  3. Scarborough-NegroFS, p. 103, (no title) (1 fragment, with a verse probably from "Napper" but the chorus of this song)
  4. MHenry-Appalachians, p. 198, "Susanna" (1 text)
  5. Silber-FSWB, p. 244, "Oh, Susanna" (1 text)
  6. PSeeger-AFB, p. 46, "Oh, Susanna" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Fuld-WFM, pp. 404-405, "Oh! Susanna"
  8. DT, OSUSANNA*
  9. ST RJ19152 (Full)
  10. Roud #11745
  11. BI, RJ19152