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Stephen Foster, that is. And it won’t be the last time.
I’m sure Stephen had little idea when composing this minstrel song in 1851 that, over 150 years later, its melody and lyrics would be recognized the world over. Or that it’d adopted as the state song of Florida. Or that he’d be immortalizing a body of water (and a state) he’d never actually see with his own eyes.
Here’s more on how the subject matter for this song was selected:
Foster had composed most of the lyrics but was struggling to name the river of the opening line, and asked his brother to suggest one. The first suggestion was “Yazoo” (in Mississippi), which despite fitting the melody perfectly, was rejected by Foster. The second suggestion was “Pee Dee” (in South Carolina), to which Foster said, “Oh pshaw! I won’t have that.” His brother then consulted an atlas and called out “Suwannee!” Foster said, “That’s it, exactly!” Adding it to the lyrics, he purposely misspelled it as “Swanee” to fit the melody.
Imagine: “Way down up on the Pee Dee River?”
Yeah. Good call, Stephen.
Swanee (Suwannee) River
aDADE tuning, Brainjo level 3-4
Notes on the Tab
In the tab above, you’ll note I’ve tabbed out both a “lead break” (something to play in between verses) and the “vocal backup” (what I play while I’m singing).
Notes in parentheses are “skip” notes – to learn more about skips and syncopated skips, check out my video lesson on the subject.
For more on reading tabs in general, check out this complete guide to reading banjo tabs.
PRIOR SONG OF THE WEEK EPISODES
- Episode 1: “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow”
- Episode 2: “Gumtree Canoe”
- Episode 3: “Crawdad Hole”
- Episode 4: “Oh Susanna”
- Episode 5: “Freight Train”
- Episode 6: “Grandfather’s Clock”
- Episode 7: “Hop High Lulu”
- Episode 8: “Been All Around This World”
- Episode 9: “I’ll Fly Away”
- Episode 10: “Leaving Home”
- Episode 11: “Poor Orphan Child”
- Episode 12: “Mr. Tambourine Man”
Level 2 arrangements and video demos for the Tune (and Song!) of the Week tunes are now available as part of the Breakthrough Banjo course.