O Susanna
Western Music
The Lone Writer  

Western Song: O Susanna

Oh! Susanna, or simply O Susanna, is one of the most famous American songs ever written. It is a folk song that the father of American music, Stephen Foster, first published in 1848. Members of the Western Writers of America picked and added it to their list of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.

History of the Song

Foster became a bookkeeper in his brother’s steamship company when he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and that is where he wrote the song, perhaps for his men’s social club. On September 11, 1847, at a concert in Andrews’ Eagle Ice Cream Saloon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a local quintet performed the song first. In 1848, W. C. Peters & Co. published it first in Cincinnati.

Blackface minstrel group performed the work, and, as what’s usual at the time, many registered the song for copyright under their names. As a result, from February 25, 1848, to February 14, 1851, it was copyrighted and published at least twenty-one times. Foster earned only $100 ($2,774 in 2016 dollars for the song). However, its popularity led Firth, Pond & Company to offer Foster a royalty rate of two cents for each copy of sheet music sold, turning him to become the first professional songwriter in the United States.

Susanna may refer to the deceased sister of Foster named Charlotte, who has a middle name of Susannah.

About the Song

O Susannah blends a variety of musical traditions. According to writer and musician Glenn Weiser, its verse’s melody resembles that of Mary Blane. Meanwhile, the opening of the chorus is almost the same as that of Rose of Alabama. O Susanna and The Rose of Alabama stories both include a lover going from one Deep Southern state to another with his banjo looking for his sweetheart, suggesting that Foster got the inspiration for his lyrics from the song of Steele.

Popular Recordings

Hundreds of artists have covered the song. Some of the most popular versions were recorded by:

  • Harry C. Browne
  • The Singing Dogs
  • The Byrds
  • Bing Crosby
  • James Taylor
  • The Big 3
  • Neil Young and Crazy Horse
  • Chongbong Band

Listen to O Susanna (James Taylor Version)

O Susanna Lyrics

Well, I come from Alabama
With my banjo on my knee
And I'm bound for Louisiana
My own true love for to see

It did rain all night the day I left
The weather was bone dry
The sun was so hot I froze myself
Susanne, don't you go on and cry

I said, oh, Susannah
Now, don't you cry for me
As I come from Alabama
With this banjo on my knee

Well, I had myself a dream the other night
When everything was still
I dreamed that I saw my girl Susanne
She was coming around the hill

Now, the buckwheat cake was in her mouth
A tear was in her eye
I said, that I come from Dixie land
Susanne, don't you break down and cry

I said, oh, Susannah
Now, don't you cry for me
'Cause I come from Alabama
With my banjo on my knee

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