Oh! Susanna

On 11 September 1847 Stephen Foster‘s best-known song, “Oh! Susanna” – which was to become an anthem of the California Gold Rush – was first performed by a local quintet in a saloon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
At the time Foster (1826–1864), later known as “the father of American music”, was only 21 and was working as a bookkeeper with his brother’s steamship company in Cincinnati. There, he wrote “Oh! Susanna“, probably for his men’s social club.

The song was published in 1848 and was a performed by blackface minstrel troupes. It was registered for copyright by at least twenty-one other people under their own names in just three years, as was common at the time.

Owing to the success of the song which sold over 100,000 copies, Foster became America’s first professional songwriter. However, despite the popularity of his music, he made little money.
The song blends together several musical traditions and incorporates elements from previous songs, starting from the story of a lover going from one Southern state to another with his banjo, looking for his sweetheart.

The lyrics contain some nonsense or paradox, also because its minstrel origins suggest that the narrator is of limited intelligence and common sense. In minstrel shows, white performers wore dark make-up and spoke, sang, and danced in a buffoonish style portraying negative racial stereotypes.

This is one of the few songs by Foster that use the word “nigger” and other racially offensive language which appears in the original second verse (*), omitted in later versions.

It is worth noting that a 1900 statue of Foster by Giuseppe Moretti (an Italian sculptor, known in the United States for his public monuments in bronze and marble) was removed from a Pittsburgh park in 2018 “for its depiction of an African-American banjo player at the feet of the seated composer”.

Oh I come from Alabama
With a banjo on my knee
I’m going to Louisiana
My true love for to see

Oh, 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
Well, I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee
I had a dream the other night
When everything was still
I dreamed I saw Susanna
She was coming down the hill

The buckwheat cake was in her mouth
A tear was in her eye
Said I come from Alabama
Now, Susanna don’t you cry
Oh! Susanna, don’t you cry for me
Well, I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee

(*) verse 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.

Vengo dall’Alabama
con il mio banjo sulle ginocchia
e sono diretto in Louisiana,
a incontrare il mio vero amore

Ha piovuto tutta la notte il giorno in cui sono partito
il tempo era asciutto
il sole così caldo che mi sono congelato
Susanna non piangere

Oh! Susanna, oh non piangere per me
Bene, vengo dall’Alabama con il mio banjo sulle ginocchia
Ho fatto un sogno l’altra notte
Quando tutto era immobile
ho sognato di vedere Susanna
che stava scendendo dalla collina

Aveva in bocca una galletta di grano saraceno
e una lacrima negli occhi
ho detto che vengo dall’Alabama
allora, Susanna, non piangere.

Sono saltato a bordo del telegrafo (battello) e ho viaggiato lungo il fiume,
l’elettricità aumentò e uccise cinquecento negri.
Il motore si ruppe, il cavallo scappò, pensavo davvero di morire;
chiusi gli occhi e trattenni il respiro – Susanna, non piangere.

30 thoughts on “Oh! Susanna

  1. Thank you, Luisa. I have heard a lot of different versions of this song and famously in many western movies but didn’t know who made it 😉 here is another version; Though, I have a much faster version in my head 😂🤗🙏💖

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Bellissima questa storia, come tutte quelle che ci fai conoscere… La canzoncina che si cantava qua era un po’ diversa, per problemi di rima immagino. No comment sull’abbattimento della statua, però di commenti ne avrei… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Eh no, non ce l’ho fatta, troppo preso con il lavoro… e poi devo finire una puntatina della mia Olena, vorrei finire prima di Natale ma sono in ritardo anche con quella… 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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