Oh! Susanna: About the Song

Oh Susanna!
Stephen Foster

Song History

"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.

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 lyrics and recordings presented on this page use the standard English lyrics that are common today.


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

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

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"

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

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