Talk:Oh! Susanna

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Odd, I've never heard the gold rush version, only this one: [1]. It seems a bit odd that it's associated with the California Gold Rush when the singer declares he's going to Louisiana.

On the other hand, I think my parents (where I heard it) probably knew it only from James Taylor. --Saforrest 13:01, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Surely on a touchtone phone the 3, 6, 9 and hash keys all play the same note? (talk) 10:23, 25 April 2008 (UTC)

Various things[edit]

  • Can we actually use the original words which included a line about 'killing five hundred Nigger' ? Or is that too un-pc for modern eyes ?
  • There is no stub template on the page, despite what the stubclass template says, so I removed the stubclass template and changed the article's class to Start.
  • The page says the first printed version was fraudulently attributed to E.P. Christy, yet the External Link labeled "original scanned sheet music" points to a document that says "Written by WELLS" on the first page (whoever s/he was). Is the scanned document not actually the original printed version, or is the article wrong in naming Christy?
  • The "original lyrics" given in the article differ in places from the lyrics on the "original scanned sheet music". Again, is the scanned music not quite original, or are the original lyrics in the article incorrect?
  • There are no citations in the article, unless the line beginning with "Chase, Gilbert" (just before the table of contents) is supposed to be one. If it is, it should be turned into a proper cite.

I don't know the answers to any of these questions or issues, nor even how to get the answers. Just thought they needed to be mentioned. Oh, and each touch-tone key actually plays a chord of two notes: one note is the same for all keys in the same row, and the other is the same for all keys in the same column. Thus the two notes together allow you to precisely determine which key was pressed. Apparently the person who asked that can only hear one of the notes for each key. -- CWesling (talk) 03:37, 30 January 2009 (UTC)

I can answer a few of those (old) questions. Can we use the original words? Yes, Wikipedia is not censored. According to the item information from the Duke Library, "Wells" was the arranger of that particular version. Incidentally, since that scanned version is now available on Commons, there's no need for that external link, and I've removed it. As for discrepancies in "original" lyrics versus "original" scanned sheet music, I'm dubious of the "original" lyrics given in this article when you wrote your comment. The current lyrics given match the scanned music very closely. cmadler (talk) 15:14, 26 April 2011 (UTC)

The first question by CWesling has already been answered, but here's how I see it. For better or worse, Foster used what is now if not then considered a very racist lyric. Such though should be recorded. If we're not going to note that the original version contained such a racial slur, then we might as well not note other things that are part of history that are racist. To ignore this or not mention this is to gloss over a part of history. History itself shouldn't be glossed over, even if some of it contains things considered racist now. (talk) 07:40, 7 August 2012 (UTC)

A little Question[edit]

Is Stephen Foster made a cover for this song,or did he just write it? what is the very first version of this song?

BTW,is there a connection between this Stephen Foster to the Squirrel Nut Zippers's song "Ghost of Stephen Foster"? Tnx

GalAt (talk) 12:04, 13 February 2009 (UTC)

Stephen Foster is the documented composer of this song. I'm not familiar with the Squirrel Nut Zippers song, but I'm sure they are referring to this Stephen Foster. He's pretty famous. CWesling (talk) 22:33, 2 April 2009 (UTC)

Moving WP:OR to talk[edit]

I am moving the following sections verbatim here to the talk page as they are pure OR. Please do not move them back without reliable sources and proper citations:

Cultural Reference

The song is frequently parodied when an ersatz folk song is needed. For example:

  • In the film Duck Soup, the Marx Brothers sing a quick verse, "Oh, Freedonia, oh don't you cry for me, 'cause I'm comin' round the mountain with a banjo on my knee."
  • In the film Go West, Groucho Marx sings, "Oh Susanna, don't you cry for me, I need $10,000 'cause the Sheriff's after me."
  • In the cartoon The Wacky Wabbit, Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny sing a variation that ends, "Oh, Susanna, don't you cry for me, 'cause I'm going to dig up wots of gold, 'V for Victowy'!"
  • In the film Paint Your Wagon, part of the shivaree is the quick verse, "Oh, Susanna, he's happy as can be, for he's got him somethin' better than a banjo on his knee!"
  • Carly Simon included a version of Oh! Susanna on her 2007 album Into White.
  • In Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen, the finale of M*A*S*H on TV, the Chinese musicians who meet Major Winchester play "Oh! Susanna" as they follow him back into the 4077th; when they approach Colonel Potter they finish.
  • In the video game Curse of Blackmoor Manor by Her Interactive gaining the easter egg then pressing the bottom number on the phone results in the chorus of this song being sung to music.
  • The popular Cantonese folk song, 有酒今朝醉 (If I had wine I would be drunk tonight), uses the same melody with Cantonese lyrics of a different meaning.
  • In theTwilight Zone episode A Stop at Willoughby the song can be heard when the protagonist of the story is getting off the train for the last time and entering the town of Willoughby.
  • In Army of Darkness when "Bad Ash" begins physically dividing from "Good Ash" and forcing the both to run into the forest, "Good Ash" asks "where are you taking me?!" and "Bad Ash" begins singing the second verse.[citation needed]
  • In the 2007 film "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford", on the day Jesse is shot, he is returning home with his son, and in the background a women is singing the song "Oh! Susanna". It is not identified who is singing it, but it may be presumed it might be someone on the street, but it's of undetermined origin.[citation needed][original research?]
  • The Counting Crows have sung "Oh Susannah" in the middle of their song Rain King.[citation needed]


  • The melody of this song is so simple that it can be played on a touch-tone telephone. It is sufficient to use the following keys: 1, 2, 3, 6, 9 and #.[citation needed]
  • It can be played with one hand on a tin whistle, by taping closed the top three holes and overblowing.[citation needed]
  • There are also at least two Pennsylvania Dutch versions of "Oh, Susanna" - one faithful translation and a variation. (See External Links)

Toddst1 (talk) 15:22, 24 October 2009 (UTC)

I don't understand why the whole section of "cultural reference" was removed, as there were only a couple of items that needed citations. I am moving the items with citations back to the article. Let me know if there are any objections. :-) Abie the Fish Peddler (talk) 13:24, 26 October 2011 (UTC)

"Songcatcher" claim[edit]

I removed this text, which has no citations, contradicts the rest of the article, and is not supported by scholarship on Foster (e.g. his biography, "Doo-Day"), which documents that he wrote his songs. There were song-catchers, but I don't think there's much evidence he was one of them. The fact that he wasn't from the South isn't very significant - minstrel music, ostensibly from the south, was a national genre.

"Stephen Foster is not the originator of many of his songs, he was a "Songcatcher" and wrote down songs that he heard during his lifetime that had been passed down through families for generations prior to Mr. Foster's birth. One such song is Oh Susanna, it is reported that Oh Susanna is a song that originated and was passed down in the Lane family from Georgia and the Hargrave (Hardgrave) family from Tennessee. Many of his songs had Southern Minstrel themes, yet Foster never lived in the South and visited it only once in 1852 by river-boat voyage on his honeymoon on his brother Dunning's steam boat the Millinger, which took him down the Mississippi to New Orleans. This trip was after he had purportedly written these songs. Many Southern, Mountain, and Hillfolk songs were written down by "Songcatchers" and sold as their own during the late 1800's and early 1900's.{citations needed|date=August 2013}" (talk) 11:00, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

Lyrics - nonsense?[edit]

The article refers to the lyrics as largely nonsense, but I don’t think that is correct. Stephen Foster wrote many lyrics in slave dialect, but was not inclined toward nonsense. Consider the following interpretation of Oh Susanna:

I come from Alabama with my Banjo on my knee—
I’se gwine to Lou’siana my true lub for to see.

The singer is a slave at an Alabama plantation whose wife or loved one has been sold down the river to New Orleans. He is known as a banjo player. The slave is desperate to find her and is trying to get to Susanna, his loved one. To travel he may have escaped the plantation. Or he may be a member of a musical group being sent around by the plantation owner (“I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee”). But he’s on his way to New Orleans, one way or another, to see his true love.

It rain’d all night de day I left, de wedder it was dry; 
The sun so hot I froze to def—Susanna, dont you cry.

This relates to the slave’s mental state: extreme fear and anxiety. But, he says, nothing, not even the weather will stop me. I’m coming; Susanna don’t you cry.

Oh!  Susanna, do not cry for me; 
I come from Alabama, 
Wid my Banjo on my knee.
I jump’d aboard the telegraph and trabbeled down de ribber, 
De lectrie fluid magnified, and kill’d five hundred Nigger. 
De bullgine bust, de hoss ran off, I really thought I’d die; 
I shut my eyes to hold my bref—Susanna, dont you cry. Chorus:

This may describe the dangerous, terror-filled trip he’s undertaking, and the uncertainty of its result. But I’m coming, Susanna don’t you cry.

I had a dream de udder night, when ebry ting was still; 
I thought I saw Susanna dear, a coming down de hill. 
De buckweat cake was in her mouf, de tear was in her eye, 
I says, I’se coming from de souf, -- Susanna, dont you cry. Chorus:

I dreamed of my love, dreamed she is tearful without me. But I’m coming; Susanna don’t you cry.

I soon will be in New Orleans, and den I’ll look all round, 
And when I find Susanna, I' fall upon the ground. 
But if I do not find her, dis darkie 'I surely die, 
And when I'm dead and buried, Susanna, dont you cry. Chorus:

Susanna, I’m coming, I’m trying, I love you, don’t cry. -- summaries provided by Schissel | Sound the Note! 17:04, 24 December 2013 (UTC), on behalf of M.J. Schissel

Note: a different point of view, together with a social history of the song are provided by Ken Emerson (Doo-dah!: Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture, Da Capo Press, 1998, pp.127 et seq.) Schissel | Sound the Note! 02:34, 19 January 2014 (UTC)

Folk song[edit]

The term "folk song" is usually used to refer to songs with unknown authors. "Oh! Susanna" is a song whose author, Stephen Foster, is well known and even mentioned in the article. Why does Wikipedia call "Oh! Susanna" a "folk song" for example by keeping it in the category called American folk songs? The song being public domain worldwide doesn't mean that Stephen Foster wouldn't have composed it. (talk) 10:42, 4 September 2014 (UTC)

You're right, though our article folk music makes this comment about usage: (excerpted)

"... There is no copyright on the songs. Hundreds of folk songs from the 19th century have known authors [my emphasis] but have continued in oral tradition to the point where they are considered traditional for purposes of music publishing. This has become much less frequent since the 1940s. Today, almost every folk song that is recorded is credited with an arranger." Schissel | Sound the Note! 01:14, 9 January 2015 (UTC)

Russian version?[edit]

A visiting Russian professor told me and others that he knew a version of "Oh! Susanna" in Russian, and that was sung frequently at Young Pioneer camps, IIRC. This version added a number of verses that weave a satirical narrative about a Confederate Civil War veteran returning home after the South's defeat. I haven’t been able to find a source to verify it, but my Russian is extremely limited. There's no article yet on the Russian Wikipedia. — ob C. alias ALAROB 19:45, 20 August 2015 (UTC)

More international versions[edit]

For Romanian, cover version of that song exists, but it's called "Şoferie" by Puiu Codreanu.

For French, there are many cover versions out there, including some adaptations. Allo002 (talk) 20:29, 5 March 2017 (UTC)