Oh, Susanna

Far West Songs

Oh Susanna (1) (Traditional)

From “A Song-book of Folk and Pop Music”

by Mario Papa & Giuliano Iantorno, Zanichelli Editore, Bologna, 1977

 

I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee,

I'm going 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.

 

Chorus:

Oh Susanna, oh don' t you cry for me,

I've come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee.

 

I had a dream the other night

When everything was still,

I thought I saw Susanna

A-coming down the hill.

The buckwheat cake (2) was in her mouth,

A tear was in her eye,

Says I, I'm coming from the South,

Susanna don't you cry.

 

Chorus:

Oh Susanna, oh don' t you cry for me,

I've come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee.

 

(1) This song is very famous all over the world; you have probably heard it in films featuring the fabulous Far West.

(2) Buckwheat cake: a cake prepared in the States with maize flour especially for breakfast.

 

Western Songs

The Scotch-Irish settled in America at the end of the 18th century, after most of the good land along the Atlantic had been divided among the wealthy families in the New World. So they moved west and settled in the mountains that stretch from the eastern state of Pennsylvania to the southern state of Georgia. They built small farms in the forested valleys and along the sides of rocky hills. They farmed, hunted, cut wood, mined cool, made strong liquor and kept up the musical tradition of their countries of origin. Their songs told stories of ill-fated lovers, of everyday work and problems, with simple lively melodies. It was a music of wild Scottish and Irish dances, and its instruments were chiefly stringed instruments.

The opening of the American West to settlers brought still another change to the mountain song. These songs were created by the cowboy, a man who worked with cattle in the American West. A simple minded man with an earthbound way o f life, the cowboy sang songs that were simple in design with little variety in rhythm and melody. He was a lonely man and his songs were filled with a desire for home, a girl and peace from the long day's hard work.

Western and Country music has a quality of sound all its own, a way of singing, and a special feeling for instrumentation. The subject of a song may vary, but you will find in this music a closeness to reality, honesty in dealing with such real lif e problems as death, love, being poor, but most of all you will find a remarkable sense of humour.

(Adapted from Chapter 5 « Country and Western » in Popular music by John Rublowsky, © 1967 by /ohn Rublowsky, Basic Books Inc. Publishers.

New York)

 

Dixieland

Alabama and Louisiana are two southern states in the USA. Louisiana belonged originally to France and took its naname from the King of France Louis XlV. Only later it became one of the United States. Alabama is known as the “Heart of Dixie”. Dixie or Dixieland is the name often given to the southern States. The explanation for this name comes from the fact that a Louisiana Bank once printed ten-dollar notes bearing the French word “dix” which in English means “ten” (1). According to this story, people called Louisiana “dix's land”, then shortened to “Dixie” or “Dixieland”. Dixie has also another meaning: it is the title of a song written by Daniel Emmett in 1859 which became popular all over the States. Dixieland is often referred to as the typical rhythmical music played by bands in the States in the early 1900.

(1) The dollar became the basic unit of money in the United States after the Revolutionary War. The name comes from the old German word “thal”, which means “valley”. One of the earliest coins of this type was made in 1519 in the valley of St Joachim in Bohemia and as called “Joachimsthaler” and later “thaler”. The word “thaler” was brought to the States by German immigrants, and the English speaking people pronounced it “dollar”.