Oh! Susanna Introduction
“Oh! Susanna” is a folk classic. Written by Stephen Foster (1826-1864), the “father of American music,” the peppy tune was introduced in 1847, just in time to become a Gold Rush favorite. Fortune seekers from across the country sang the song as they raced to California’s gold fields. Today, children memorize its words as they study this exciting period in American history.
The words we sing today are not actually the same words written by Stephen Foster in 1847, mostly because his lyrics were incredibly racist. The songwriter who wrote beautiful ballads about love and home like “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” filled this song with offensive imagery. Hey, all the cool kids were doing it!
So what exactly did the song say in 1847? Why did Foster write such an offensive song? And what does this does tell us about America in the 1840s?
About the Song
|Year||1848 (written in 1847)|
Learn to play: http://guitar.about.com/library/ChildrensSongChords/bl-oh-susanna.htm
Buy this song: Amazon iTunes
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“Oh! Susanna” is about far more than the Gold Rush, however (especially considering it isn’t about the Gold Rush at all). Written as a minstrel song, it offers an example of the racism-infused music that lay that at the center of this popular form of entertainment. Minstrel shows, in which white actors covered their faces with burnt cork and mocked African American slaves, were extremely popular in the North throughout much of the 19th century and even into the beginning of the 20th. They remind us that racism pervaded American culture and that, while eventually North and South would go to war, in part, over slavery, there were more similarities between the two halves of the country than we often acknowledge.