In 1850, Stephen Foster married Jane Denny McDowell, whose nickname was “Jennie.” Considered America’s first great songwriter, Foster (1826-1864) wrote “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair” as a parlor song with his wife Jane McDowell in mind:
I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair, Borne, like vapor, on the summer air; I see her tripping where the bright streams play, Happy as the daisies that dance on her way. Many were the wild notes her merry voice would pour. Many were the blithe birds that warbled them o’er: Oh! I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair, Floating, like a vapor, on the soft summer air.
At the age of 21 Foster wrote the minstrel song “Oh! Susanna,” which was first performed in Andrew’s Eagle Ice Cream Saloon in Pittsburg, PA on September 11, 1847. It was first published in 1848. Foster received 2 cents per copy of sheet music sold, which convinced him to become America’s first fully professional songwriter. Susanna may refer to Foster’s deceased sister Charlotte, whose middle name was Susannah. “Oh! Susanna” became a popular to sing for those going west to pursue the California Gold Rush. It is about a man going to New Orleans to see his beloved Susanna and is Foster’s most frequently sung song:
I came from Alabama Wid my banjo on my knee, I’m g’wan to Louisiana, My true love for to see, It raind all night the day I left The weather it was dry, The sun so hot I frose to death Susanna don’t you cry. Oh! Susanna Oh! Don’t you cry for me I’ve come from Alabama wid mi banjo on my knee.