This week’s TOTW is actually two tunes – Oh! Susanna and She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain. I started working out my arrangements a few months ago and have been refining along the way. I think they work together nicely as a medley, which I recorded on May 24th, 2023. I’m playing my Romero 12” strung with Nylgut Classic strings. The tuning is eCGCD - a variant of Double C I use often. The banjo is equipped with a Banjo Bolster placed in the lower arc, making light contact with the head.
Note: You can get the same relative tuning by starting off with Double C and placing a capo on the 3rd fret, leaving the 5th string uncapoed.
For additional info about my arrangement, please check out this thread.
I hope you enjoy it!
My arrangement: Oh! Susanna & She'll by Coming 'Round the Mountain
INTERESTING SONG FACTS
~ Oh! Susanna ~
Oh! Susanna is a minstrel tune written by Stephen Foster (1826 – 1864) and was first published in 1848. According to Wikipedia, it is “among the most popular America songs ever written. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time”.
The song was copyrighted and published at least twenty-one times by different people, from February 25, 1848, through February 14, 1851. At that time Foster only earned $100 for the song even though it became incredibly popular. So much so, that the publishing firm (Firth, Pond & Company) offered him a royalty rate of two cents for every copy of sheet music sold. He accepted the offer and became the first fully professional songwriter in the United States.
The name “Susanna” may be a reference to Foster’s deceased sister Charlotte whose middle name was Susannah (different spelling).
Oh! Susanna is not without its share of controversy. Foster wrote the tune for the minstrel shows, which were popular at the time, and it was often performed in black face. The original second verse contained lyrics that use overtly racist language.
Modern artists who have recorded the tune include James Taylor, Carly Simon, Chet Atkins, and Gene Autry.
~ She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain ~
Often categorized as a children’s folk song - She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain is derived from the spiritual “When the Chariot Comes”, which first appeared in print in Carl Sandburg’s The America Songbag in 1927. She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain was published in the book “Old Plantation Hymns” in 1899. The tune refers to the second coming of Christ and the Rapture that follows. The “She” in “She’ll”, is referring to the chariot that is being driven by Christ.
The standard version we know today was developed by railroad work gangs in the late 1800’s and often appears in printed collections of children’s music. Since the mid 1920’s, She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain has been recorded by many musicians, including Tommy Tucker, Bing Crosby, Pete Seeger, and Neil Young.
~ Oh! Susanna ~
Janet Burton: Clawhammer
J-Walk: Clawhammer (5-6 banjos)
Tom Berghan: Minstrel Style
Old Cremona: Two Banjos – Minstrel Style
John McEuen – Clawhammer
~ She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain ~
Ken LeVan: Clawhammer
Cathy Cress: Clawhammer
Dr. Josh Turknett: Clawhammer
Mandy Tuner: Two Finger
Edited by - Frailblazer on 06/02/2023 03:53:31
You never disappoint, Ric. I love the idea of using a simple tune as a vessel to pour your unique musicality into. A beautiful rendition. Don’t stay away so long! (I should talk).
This resonates me to the core.
The first-rate playing, artistic arrangement, wonderful sound, and mood that’s established make this a truly transcendent recording. I’ve listened to it several times and will be going back to it, again and again.
Your presentation and superb medley is a fresh and lovely treat for TOTW, Ric. Thanks so much.
Coincidentally, I had listened to Old Susannah as played by Gilbert Ross (1903 - 1993) just the day before, remembering how I'd arranged his version for clawhammer, which you kindly included above. Ross stated he learned it from the 1848 notes of William Sydney Mount (1807 - 1858), the violinist and famous painter many of us are familiar with (at least with his painting The Banjo Player). Note the similarity with Stephen Foster's 1848 publishing date, perhaps being one of the twenty-one copies of Oh! Susanna published at the time.
Mount liked to use the rhythmic technique called the Scottish snap, emphasized in Ross' playing and which I attempted to emulate. It gives a unique flavor to Oh! Susanna and was called Old Susannah.
Mount played for dances in New York at the time and desired a louder violin, therefore created and patented his violin innovation called Cradle of Harmony. There are only three of those original violins on display and Ross played one in 1976. The resulting CD is called "The Cradle of Harmony, William Sydney Mount's Violin & Fiddle Music" from the Smithsonian Folkway Archival recordings, and also where one of the original violins is housed.
So I decided today to work instead on She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain. To make it more challenging, I worked up a modulation. Like you, I used one of your Banjo Bolster products to enhance the tone of my Doc's Banjo and was pleased with the result. But I must admit that my simple rendition of this old and familiar song doesn't compare to the exquisite medley you shared here. I sure hope to hear more from you on BHO, Ric!
I noted that Cathy Cress played in double C tuning, which I also found the best for an arrangement. I started to tab the modulation, which goes to the key of F, but just offer here the tab for the key of C. If anyone really wants it I can make the complete tab.
Laurence, Paul and Janet - Thanks for the wonderful feedback!
Janet - Love the key change! A brave move into the dreaded Circle of 4ths! You nailed it!