Oh! Susanna

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
AUTHOR: Stephen C. Foster
EARLIEST DATE: 1848 (sheet muysic by C. Holt Jr.)
KEYWORDS: love travel dream humorous
REFERENCES (15 citations):
RJackson-19CPop, pp. 152-155, "Oh! Susanna" (1 text, 1 tune)
BrownIII 408, "Oh, Susanna!" (2 texts plus 2 excerpts and mention of 4 more; the "E" text has a chorus from elsewhere)
BrownSchinhanV 408, "Oh, SUsanna!" (1 tune plus a text excerpt)
Scarborough-NegroFS, p. 103, (no title) (1 fragment, with a verse probably from "Napper" but the chorus of this song)
MHenry-Appalachians, p. 198, "Susanna" (1 text)
Shay-Barroom, pp. 8-9, "O! Susanna" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 244, "Oh, Susanna" (1 text)
PSeeger-AFB, p. 46, "Oh, Susanna" (1 text, 1 tune)
Emerson, p. 6, "Susanna" (1 text)
Fireside, p. 40, "Oh, Susanna!" (1 text, 1 tune)
Messerli, pp. 73-75, "Susanna (Oh! Susanna)" (1 text)
Fuld-WFM, pp. 404-405, "Oh! Susanna"
ADDITIONAL: Aline Waites & Robin Hunter, _The Illustrated Victorian Songbook_, Michael Joseph Ltd., 1984, pp. 78-79, "Oh! Susanna" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Harry Dichter and Elliott Shapiro, _Early American Sheet Music: Its Lure and Its Lore, 1768-1889_, R. R. Bowker, 1941, plate 21, shows the original sheet music cover

ST RJ19152 (Full)
Roud #11745
Vernon Dalhart, "Oh Susanna" (Romeo 539, 1928)
Vernon Dalhart w. Carson Robison & Adelyne Hood, "Oh! Susanna" (Victor 21169, 1928)
Light Crust Doughboys, "Oh! Susanna" (Vocalion 03345, 1936)
Chubby Parker, "Oh, Susanna" (Silvertone 25013, 1927; Supertone 9191, 1928)
Riley Puckett "O! Susanna" (Columbia 15014-D, c. 1925; rec. 1924; Silvertone 3261 [as Tom Watson], 1926)
Rice Brothers Band, "Oh Susannah" (Decca 5804, 1940)
Pete Seeger, "Oh, Susanna" (on PeteSeeger18)

cf. "Prospecting Dream" (tune)
cf. "Oh California" (tune)
cf. "Oh, Susanna (II)" (tune)
cf. "Snowed In" (tune)
Oh California (File: ShaSS114)
Oh, Susanna (II) (File: Hugi116)
Song of the Death Valley Prospectors (File: CAFS2664)
The Empire Club (File: TPS063)
Snowed In (File: Clev046)
Trentham (File: Clev118)
The Shipping Agents (by Charles Thatcher) (File: BaRo047)
O Susanne! (a Danish song built around Fosters's tune but about a boy who became a sailor; Rochelle Wright and Robert L. Wright, _Danish Emigrant Ballads and Songs_, Southern Illinois University Press, 1983, #59, p. 137)
Old Mose Song ("I'm don on running with der old machine") (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 115)
That Cottage Home (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 155)
Oh, Luella ("Oh, Luella, won't you mention me," referring to the ability of Louella Parsons to bring performers to fame and prominence) (Jacob Weisberg, _Ronald Reagan_ [a volume in the _American Presidents_ series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.], Times Books, 2016 (references are to a 2015 advance reader copy that probably has the final pagination but lacks an index or other reader helps), p. 19)
NOTES [448 words]: This song is one of the best examples of Stephen Foster's bad luck and lack of skill 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. John Tasker Howard, Stephen Foster, America's Troubadour, 1934 (I use the 1939 Tudor Publishing edition), pp. 141-144, lists twenty different printed editions from 1848 to 1851, from ten different publishers; some are new arrangements, and the titles vary, but they're the same song. Howard says that most of the editions don't even mention Foster's name.
There is perhaps some sort of irony that that earliest, pirated, printing, by C. Holt Jr. of New York, is now immensely valuable; according to Deems Taylor et al, A Treasury of Stephen Foster, Random House, 1946, p. 31, only three copies were known in the mid-twentieth century.
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.
Ken Emerson, Doo-Dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture, Da Capo, 1997?, pp. 39-40, notes that Foster has a musical sister, Charlotte Susanna, who died young. He seems to believe the verse
I had a dream de udder night, when ebry ting was still,
I thought I saw Susanna dear a coming down de hill
was inspired by her.
On p. 127, he declares that "September 11, 1847, is a firm date for the birth of pop music as we still recognize it today," when the Eagle Saloon debuted the song. Emerson goes on to declare the song to be more deeply rooted in American consciousness than any other. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
File: RJ19152

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.