Music > Songs

Oh Susanna!

<a href="http://balladofamerica.bandcamp.com/track/oh-susanna">Oh Susanna! by Matthew Sabatella and the Rambling String Band</a>

About Oh Susanna!

Oh Susanna! was the first huge hit song in American popular music.Stephen Foster, often referred to as the Father of American Music, was only 21 years old when he composed it in 1848. He later wrote, “the two fifty-dollar bills I received (for Oh Susanna!) had the effect of starting me on my present vocation as a songwriter.” In his 37 years of life, Foster wrote more than 200 songs. He visited the South only once, yet many of his songs portrayed blacks and slave life and were frequently performed by blackface minstrel singers. As Oh Susanna! was beloved by ‘49ers during the California gold rush and others heading west during the mid-nineteenth century, the song became emblematic of Westward Expansion.

Blackface minstrelsy was America’s most popular form of live entertainment in the 1840s and 1850s. It was the first uniquely American theatrical form and one of its first industries of culture. Featuring music and comedy skits performed primarily by white men made up with burnt cork to appear black, it was marketed as an authentic representation of African American culture. Blackface characters generally portrayed African Americans in comic exaggerations, leading past historians to determine that the form was little more than an example of the prevailing racist attitudes in antebellum America. Today, scholars seem to agree that minstrelsy was much more complex and nuanced than that. Along with expressions of race, minstrelsy embodied ideas of class struggle and misogyny. And, while often reducing African Americans to cruel stereotypes, the success of minstrelsy was an indication of the genuine interest of working-class white men in the music and culture of blacks.

The rise of blackface minstrelsy coincided with Foster's growth to adulthood. He wrote Oh Susanna! in the black "plantation" dialect that was common to the genre but is extremely racially offensive by today's standards. As a deeply-divided United States careened towards a Civil War, Foster's music and lyrics evolved to use white, middle-class American English to present sympathetic portrayals of people who were suffering in slavery. He also made attempts to replace the dialect in his earlier songs with verses in standard English.

The recording and performances of Oh Susanna! by Matthew Sabatella and the Rambling String Band are presented with the standard English lyrics that are most common today.

Lyrics to Oh Susanna!

Oh Susanna!

chorus:

Oh, Susanna!
Oh, don't you cry for me
For I come from Alabama
With a banjo on my knee

verses:

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)

I had a dream the other night
When everything was still
I thought I saw Susanna
A-coming down the hill

A red, red rose was in her hand
The tear was in her eye
I said, "I come from Dixie land
Susanna, don't you cry"

(chorus)

I soon will be in New Orleans
And then I'll look around
And when I find Susanna
I'll fall upon the ground

But if I do not find her
I will surely die
And when I'm dead and buried
Susanna, don't you cry

(chorus)

Download Oh Susanna!

BandCamp
Video of Oh Susanna!


Part of this song is featured in the Ballad of America video overview.

Compact Disc with Oh Susanna!

This song is available on the compact disc:
Ballad of America Volume 2: America Singing
Oh Susanna! is on the album Ballad of America  Volume 2: America Singing

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