Monday, September 11, 2006

Oh! Susanna

Most of us know what happened today in 2001. ( and I’m lucky to be able to remember this day with a happier spin because my niece was born in 2003, so we celebrate life on such a tragic day.

Steven Foster’s 1847 hit song was first played at a Pittsburgh saloon. It was a national hit and became the unofficial anthem of the 49ers - the miners during the California Gold Rush, not today's football team *G*.

Foster wrote several other classic popular songs, including De Campton Races (1850), Old Folks at Home [Swanee River] (1851), My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night! (1853), Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair (1854), Gentle Annie (1856), Beautiful Dreamer (1862), and The Voices That Are Gone (1865).

Something I had no idea about until researching Foster for this blog. According Ken Emerson, Foster’s biographer and the All Music Guide:
“It became associated with the California Gold Rush. Yet most people don't know
many of the words--fortunately, for the song was actually a blackface dialect
number whose words contain some appallingly racist lines. However, a little
thought also makes the song's subtext clear: the singer clearly identifies
himself as an African American, yet he blithely sings of coming from Alabama,
travelling freely by riverboat to New Orleans. For all its lightheartedness,
"Oh! Susanna" depicts a slave's escape attempt.”

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