Oh! Susanna

Oh! Susanna is a popular American folk song.

Stephen Foster

In 1846, Stephen Foster moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and worked in his brother’s steamship company as a bookkeeper. He wrote Oh! Susanna during this time.

“The name Susanna may refer to Foster’s deceased sister Charlotte, whose middle name was Susannah.”

Many historians believe he wrote it for his men’s social club.  The song was first performed by a local quintet at a concert in Andrews’ Eagle Ice Cream Saloon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 11, 1847.

The song blends a variety of musical traditions together and many of the lyrics are described as “nonsense”.

Stephen Foster first published this minstrel song in 1848. The song was published by W.C. Peters & Co.  The song has been a popular American song ever since.

Many of the minstrel troupes performing the work registered the copyright under their own names. The song was copyrighted and published at least 21 times between 1848-1851.

The song was the first American song to sell more than 5,000 copies and went on to sell over 100,000 copies.

Foster earned $100 for the song {almost $3000 today} but the publishing firm later offered him a royalty of two cents per copy of sheet music sold. This led to him becoming the first fully professional songwriter in the United States.

The song became the unofficial theme of the Forty-Niners, the name for those in the California gold rush.

Over time the lyrics have changed or been rewritten. The song is also found in the Library of Congress.

The earliest known recording dates back to 1916. Numerous performers have sung the song and it has been used in a variety of movies and TV shows.

Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.