I’m Off for California (1850s?)

Here’s a song you’ll recognize, and yet… it’s a side of the Gold Rush story you might not have heard about in school: The melody is Stephen Foster‘s first big hit, “Oh Susannah” (1847), ubiquitous in its time and still common in the “folk song” tradition over a century and a half later.  Foster’s original composition features two world-changing technologies…

United States it am de place (Rice, 1858)

This mysterious half-dialect minstrel song from Rice’s 1858 Method for the Banjo offers an intriguing glimpse into the economics and racial politics of the antebellum era…

Mary Blane (1840s)

The lost-love minstrel tune “Mary Blane” was one of the most popular songs of the early minstrel era (see Mahar’s list):

Here I Am as You Diskiver (1860)

Blackface minstrel tune conflating plantation slavery, the “Indian Nation” (& associated issues of Removal), & antebellum militarism in public space: