TORONTO — Canadian folk singer Suzie Ungerleider says she’s retiring her Oh Susanna moniker, adopted from the 1848 American folk song, after learning more about its racist roots.
The two-time Juno Award nominee from Vancouver posted a message on her website explaining the decision to drop the name after more than 25 years.
Ungerleider took her stage identity from Stephen Foster’s famous song “Oh! Susanna,” thinking it “seemed perfect” to blend her real name with one of “the great American folk songs that were a source of inspiration” as a shorthand.
However, she says more recently she’s learned about its ties to Blackface minstrelsy and some of the overly racist lyrics that had disappeared from the song over time.
At first, Ungerleider says she considered the song’s history an “ugly relic” of a bygone era, but as people took to the streets last summer over the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, she says she began to consider how she might be perpetuating racism by continuing to use the name.
Other musicians have chosen to drop their stage names over the past year to disassociate themselves with slavery and a pre-Civil War era of the United States. The Dixie Chicks renamed themselves as the Chicks, while Lady Antebellum adopted the name Lady A.