Click to enlargeOh! Susanna (brass quintet)

The more one learns about Stephen Foster, the more interesting and sad the story becomes. For nearly twenty years around the time of the Civil War, he wrote most of the popular songs published in the United States, yet died flat broke at the age of 37. He sold most of his songs to publishers for lump sums. Some he did not sell at all. Copyright and royalty laws being what they were at the time, up to five or more publishers would have competing editions of his songs in print, and other than whatever he could get up front, he rarely saw any money.

Foster was from the black-face minstrel show tradition, and as one of his earliest songs, this song uses the minstrel show "slave dialect." The original lyric is thought to be offensive to today's ears, and so the modernized lyric appears below.

Written in 1847 and first published in 1848, it made the young Foster an immediate success as a writer of songs for minstrel shows. This song also became associated with the California gold rush of 1849. It's catchy tune and nonsense lyric made it one of the the most popular songs of its time.

In this arrangement, the tune of the stanza is as Foster wrote it, but the chorus has been modified a bit to make it more fun to play.

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I come from Alabama with a 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.
Oh, Susanna, don't you cry for me
Cos' I come from Alabama
With my banjo on my knee.

Had a dream the other night when everything was still,
I thought I saw Susanna coming up the hill,
A buck wheat cake was in her mouth, a tear was in her eye,
I said I'm coming from the south, Susanna don't you cry.
Oh, Susanna, don't you cry for me
Cos' I come from Alabama
With my banjo on my knee.

I soon will be in New Orleans and then I'll look around
And when I find my Susanna, I'll fall upon the ground
But if I do not find her, this man will surely die
And when I'm dead and buried, Susanna don't you cry.
Oh, Susanna, don't you cry for me
Cos' I come from Alabama
With my banjo on my knee.

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MP3 sound sample: entire piece (synthesizer/midi).



OH! SUSANNA, by Stephen Foster, arranged by Tom Kirkland for brass quintet consisting of two trumpets, french horn, trombone, and tuba, comes in a pdf file of 330K, with eight-page score, five two-page parts, and a license page, twenty pages in all. Performance time should be about two minutes.


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Last update: 16 August 2017