Stephen Collins Foster
Stephen Collins Foster
July 4, 1826
|Died||January 13, 1864 37) (aged|
|Resting place|| Allegheny Cemetery |
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Monuments|| Stephen Foster Memorial |
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Education||Athens Academy, Towanda, Pennsylvania Athens Academy|
|Occupation||Composer, lyricist, poet|
|Agent||Various sheet music publishers and brother, Morrison Foster|
|Known for||First fully professional U.S. songwriter|
|"Angelina Baker", "Beautiful Dreamer", "Camptown Races", "Gentle Annie", "The Glendy Burk", "Hard Times Come Again No More", "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair", "My Old Kentucky Home", "Oh! Susanna", "Old Black Joe", "Old Folks at Home" ("Swanee River"), "Open Thy Lattice Love"|
|Style||Period music, minstrel|
|Spouse(s)||Jane McDowell Foster Wiley (1829–1903) (other sources use Jane Denny Foster Wiley)|
|Children||Marion Foster Welch (1851–1935)|
|Parent(s)||William Barclay Foster (1779–1855), Eliza Clayland Tomlinson Foster (1788–1855)|
|Relatives|| Evelyn Foster Morneweck (niece and biographer), James Foster (grandfather)|
Siblings:Charlotte Susanna Foster (1809–1829), Anne Eliza Foster Buchanan (1812–1891), Henry Baldwin Foster (1816–1870), Henrietta Angelica Foster Thornton (1819–1879), Dunning McNair Foster (1821–1856), Morrison Foster (1823–1904)
Stephen Collins Foster (July 4, 1826 –January 13, 1864), known also as "the father of American music", was an American songwriter known primarily for his parlor and minstrel music. He wrote more than 200 songs, including "Oh! Susanna", "Hard Times Come Again No More", "Camptown Races", "Old Folks at Home" ("Swanee River"), "My Old Kentucky Home", "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair", "Old Black Joe", and "Beautiful Dreamer", and many of his compositions remain popular today. He has been identified as "the most famous songwriter of the nineteenth century" and may be the most recognizable American composer in other countries. Most of his handwritten music manuscripts are lost, but editions issued by publishers of his day feature in various collections.
There are many biographies of Foster, but details differ widely. Among other issues, Foster wrote very little biographical information himself, and his brother Morrison Foster destroyed much information that he judged to reflect negatively upon the family.
Foster was born on July 4, 1826,to William Barclay Foster and Eliza Clayland Tomlinson Foster, with three older sisters and six older brothers. His parents were of Ulster Scots and English descent. He attended private academies in Allegheny, Athens, and Towanda, Pennsylvania and received an education in English grammar, diction, the classics, penmanship, Latin, Greek, and mathematics. The family lived in a northern city but they did not support the abolition of slavery.
Foster taught himself to play the clarinet, guitar, flute, and piano. He did not have formal instruction in composition but he was helped by Henry Kleber (1816–97), a German-born music dealer in Pittsburgh. 30 miles (48 km) from Athens and 15 miles from Towanda. His education included a brief period at Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, now Washington & Jefferson College. His tuition was paid, but he had little spending money. He left Canonsburg to visit Pittsburgh with another student and did not return.In 1839, his brother William was serving his apprenticeship as an engineer at Towanda and thought that Stephen would benefit from being under his supervision. The site of the Camptown Races is
In 1846, Foster moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and became a bookkeeper with his brother Dunning's steamship company. He wrote his first successful songs in 1848–1849, among them "Oh! Susanna",which became an anthem of the California Gold Rush. In 1849, he published Foster's Ethiopian Melodies, which included the successful song "Nelly Was a Lady" as made famous by the Christy Minstrels. A plaque marks the site of his residence in Cincinnati, where the Guilford School building is now located.
Then he returned to Pennsylvania and signed a contract with the Christy Minstrels. It was during this period that he wrote most of his best-known songs: "Camptown Races" (1850), "Nelly Bly" (1850), "Ring de Banjo" (1851), "Old Folks at Home" (known also as "Swanee River", 1851), "My Old Kentucky Home" (1853), "Old Dog Tray" (1853), and "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair" (1854), written for his wife Jane Denny McDowell.
Many of Foster's songs were of the blackface minstrel show tradition popular at the time but now recognized as racist. He sought to "build up taste...among refined people by making words suitable to their taste, instead of the trashy and really offensive words which belong to some songs of that order".In the 1850s, he associated with a Pittsburgh-area abolitionist leader named Charles Shiras, and wrote an abolitionist play himself. Many of his songs had Southern themes, yet Foster never lived in the South and visited it only once, during his 1852 honeymoon.
Foster's last four years were spent in New York City. There is little information on this period of his life, although family correspondence has been preserved.
Foster got sick with a fever in January 1864. Weakened, he fell in his hotel in the Bowery, cutting his neck. His writing partner George Cooper found him still alive but lying in a pool of blood. Foster died in Bellevue Hospital three days later at the age of 37.Other biographers describe different accounts of his death.
Historian JoAnne O’Connell speculates in her biography, The Life and Songs of Stephen Foster, that Foster may have killed himself, a common occurrence during the Civil War.George Cooper, who was with Foster until he died, said: “He lay there on the floor, naked, suffering horribly. He had wonderful big brown eyes, and they looked up at me with an appeal I can never forget. He whispered, ‘I’m done for.’” Unlike Foster’s brother Morrison, who was not in New York and said Foster was ill and cut his neck on a washbasin, Cooper mentioned no broken crockery and also said Foster had a “large knife” for cutting up apples and turnips. Morrison may have covered up Foster’s suicide. Evelyn Morneweck, Morrison’s daughter, also said the family would have covered up the suicide of their uncle if they could have.
As O’Connell and musicologist Ken Emerson have noted, several of the songs Foster wrote during the last years of his life foreshadow his death, such as “The Little Ballad Girl” and “Kiss Me Dear Mother Ere I Die.”Emerson says in his 2010 Stephen Foster and Co. that Foster’s injuries may have been “accidental or self-inflicted.”
When Foster died, his leather wallet contained a scrap of paper that simply said, "Dear friends and gentle hearts", along with 38 cents (one for each year of his life) in Civil War scrip and three pennies. The note is said to have inspired Bob Hilliard's lyric for "Dear Hearts and Gentle People" (1949). Foster was buried in the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh. After his death, Morrison Foster became his "literary executor". As such, he answered requests for copies of manuscripts, autographs, and biographical information.One of the best-loved of his works was "Beautiful Dreamer", published shortly after his death.
Foster grew up in a section of the city where many European immigrants had settled and was accustomed to hearing the music of the Italian, Scots-Irish, and German residents. He composed his first song when he was 14 and entitled it the "Tioga Waltz". The first song that he had published was "Open thy Lattice Love" (1844).He wrote songs in support of drinking, such as "My Wife Is a Most Knowing Woman", "Mr. and Mrs. Brown", and "When the Bowl Goes Round", while also composing temperance songs such as "Comrades Fill No Glass for Me" or "The Wife". Foster also authored many church hymns, although the inclusion of his hymns in hymnals ended by 1910. Some of the hymns are "Seek and ye shall find", "All around is bright and fair, While we work for Jesus", and "Blame not those who weep and sigh". Several rare Civil War-era hymns by Foster were performed by The Old Stoughton Musical Society Chorus, including "The Pure, The Bright, The Beautiful", "Over The River", "Give Us This Day", and "What Shall The Harvest Be?"
Foster usually sent his handwritten scores directly to his publishers. The publishers kept the sheet music manuscripts and did not give them to libraries nor return them to his heirs. Some of his original, hand-written scores were bought and put into private collections and the Library of Congress.
Foster's songs, lyrics, and melodies have often been altered by publishers and performers.Ray Charles released a version of "Old Folks at Home" that was titled "Swanee River Rock (Talkin’ ’Bout That River)," which became his first pop hit in November 1957.
"My Old Kentucky Home" is the official state song of Kentucky, adopted by the General Assembly on March 19, 1928. "Old Folks at Home" became the official state song of Florida, designated in 1935.The lyrics are widely regarded as racist today, however, so "Old Folks at Home" was modified with approval from the Stephen Foster Memorial. The modified song was kept as the official state song, while "Florida (Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky)" was added as the state anthem.
From a modern perspective Foster's compositions can be seen as disparaging to African Americans, or outright racist. Others have argued that Foster unveiled the realities of slavery in his work while also imparting some dignity to African Americans in his compositions, especially as he grew as an artist.Foster composed many songs that were used in minstrel shows. This form of public entertainment lampooned African Americans as buffoonish, superstitious, without a care, musical, lazy, and dim-witted. In the early 1830s, these minstrel shows gained popularity, and blackface minstrel shows were a separate musical art form by 1848, more readily accessible to the general public than opera.
In 1935, Henry Ford ceremonially presented a new addition to his historical collection of early American memorabilia in the "Home of Stephen Foster". The structure was identified by notable historians of the time as being authentic and was then deconstructed and moved "piece by piece" from Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania (now part of Pittsburgh), to Greenfield Village, attached to the Henry Ford Museum, in Dearborn, Michigan. Foster's niece insisted that it was not his birthplace, and the claim was withdrawn in 1953. Greenfield Village still displays a structure that is identified as the birthplace of Stephen Foster.The Foster family stated that the original Foster birthplace structure was torn down in 1865.
Foster is honored on the University of Pittsburgh campus with the Stephen Foster Memorial, a landmark building that houses the Stephen Foster Memorial Museum, the Center for American Music, as well as two theaters: the Charity Randall Theatre and Henry Heymann Theatre, both performance spaces for Pitt's Department of Theater Arts. It is the largest repository for original Stephen Foster compositions, recordings, and other memorabilia his songs have inspired worldwide.
Two state parks are named in Foster's honor: the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs, Florida and Stephen C. Foster State Park in Georgia. Both parks are on the Suwannee River. Stephen Foster Lake at Mount Pisgah State Park in Pennsylvania is also named in his honor.
One state park is named in honor of Foster's songs, My Old Kentucky Home, an historic mansion formerly named Federal Hill, located in Bardstown, Kentucky where Stephen is said to have been an occasional visitor according to his brother, Morrison Foster. The park dedicated a bronze statue in honor of Stephen's work.
The Lawrenceville (Pittsburgh) Historical Society, together with the Allegheny Cemetery Historical Association, hosts the annual Stephen Foster Music and Heritage Festival (Doo Dah Days!). Held the first weekend of July, Doo Dah Days! celebrates the life and music of one of the most influential songwriters in America's history. His home in the Lawrenceville Section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, still remains on Penn Avenue nearby the Stephen Foster Community Center.
A 1900 statue of Foster by Giuseppe Moretti was located in Schenley Plaza, in Pittsburgh, from 1940 until 2018. On the unanimous recommendation of the Pittsburgh Art Commission, the statue was removed on April 26, 2018.Its new home has not yet been determined. It has a long reputation as the most controversial public art in Pittsburgh "for its depiction of an African-American banjo player at the feet of the seated composer. Critics say the statue glorifies white appropriation of black culture, and depicts the vacantly smiling musician in a way that is at best condescending and at worst racist." A city-appointed Task Force on Women in Public Art called for the statue to be replaced with one honoring an African American woman with ties to the Pittsburgh community. The Task Force held a series of community forums in Pittsburgh to collect public feedback on the statue replacement and circulated an online form which allowed the public to vote for one of seven previously selected candidates or write in an alternate suggestion. However, the Task Force on Women in Public Art and the Pittsburgh Art Commission have not reached an agreement as to who will be commemorated or if the statue will stay in the Schenley Plaza location.
"Old Folks at Home" is a minstrel song written by Stephen Foster in 1851. Since 1935 it has been the official state song of Florida, although in 2008 the original lyrics were revised.
"My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!" is a sentimental minstrel song written by Stephen Foster, probably composed in 1852. It was published in January 1853 by Firth, Pond, & Co. of New York. Foster was likely inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, as evidenced by the title of a sketch in Foster’s sketchbook, “Poor Uncle Tom, Good-Night!” Some have claimed that Foster was inspired by visits to the Bardstown, Kentucky plantation called Federal Hill in the 1850s. However, no direct or contemporary evidence of this visit has surfaced, and this claim has been contested by most prominent Foster scholars, including William Austin, Ken Emerson, and John Tasker Howard.
James Alan Bland, also known as Jimmy Bland, was an American musician, song writer, and minstrel performer. He is best known for the song "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" which was the official State Song of Virginia from 1940 to 1997.
"Oh! Susanna" is a folk song by Stephen Foster (1826–1864), first published in 1848. It is among the most popular American songs ever written. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.
From independence to the start of the American Civil War, American music underwent many changes. The folk vernacular traditions diversified and spread across the nation, while a number of prominent composers of European art music also arose.
Edwin Pearce Christy was an American composer, singer, actor and stage producer. He is more commonly known as E. P. Christy, and was the founder of the blackface minstrel group Christy's Minstrels.
"Gwine to Run All Night, or De Camptown Races" is a minstrel song by Stephen Foster (1826–1864). It was published in February 1850 by F. D. Benteen of Baltimore, Maryland, and Benteen published a different version with guitar accompaniment in 1852 under the title "The Celebrated Ethiopian Song/Camptown Races". The song quickly entered the realm of popular Americana. Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829–1869) quotes the melody in his virtuoso piano work Grotesque Fantasie, the Banjo, op. 15 published in 1855. In 1909, composer Charles Ives incorporated the tune and other vernacular American melodies into his orchestral Symphony No. 2.
The Stephen Collins Foster Memorial is a performing arts center and museum which houses the Stephen Foster Archives at the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. It is dedicated to the life and works of American songwriter Stephen Foster.
William Shakespeare Hays was an American poet and lyricist. He wrote some 350 songs over his career and sold as many as 20 million copies of his works. These pieces varied in tone from low comedy to sentimental and pious; his material was sometimes confused with that of Stephen Foster as a result. In his later years, Hays put forth one of the more plausible claims to authorship of the song "Dixie". In the end, however, no evidence could be produced to back up his pretensions.
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park is a Florida State Park located in White Springs off U.S. 41, along the Suwannee River in north Florida.
Fletcher Hodges Jr. was an American who curated the Foster Hall Collection, a collection of documents and music related to Stephen Foster at the University of Pittsburgh, for fifty-one years.
I Dream of Jeanie is a 1952 American historical musical film based on the songs and life of Stephen Foster who wrote the 1854 song "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair" from which the title is taken. The film was directed by Allan Dwan for Republic Pictures and was shot in Trucolor.
Stephen Foster is a landmark public sculpture in bronze by Giuseppe Moretti formerly located on Schenley Plaza in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Formerly sited along Forbes Avenue near the entrance of Carnegie Museum of Natural History, in the shadow of Dippy, a life-size sculpture of a Diplodocus dinosaur, and in close proximity to the University of Pittsburgh's Stephen Foster Memorial, the Foster statue is one of the city's best known and most controversial. It was removed on April 26, 2018 on the unanimous vote of the Pittsburgh Art Commission.
Swanee River is a 1939 American film directed by Sidney Lanfield and starring Don Ameche, Andrea Leeds, Al Jolson, and Felix Bressart. It is a biopic about Stephen Foster, a songwriter from Pittsburgh who falls in love with the South, marries a Southern girl, then is accused of sympathizing when the Civil War breaks out. Typical of 20th Century Fox biographical films of the time, the film was more fictional than it was factual.
"Florida, Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky" is the official anthem of the State of Florida. Originally written as a replacement for the state song, "Old Folks at Home", it was instead designated as the state's anthem in 2008.
Stephen Foster is a compilation album of phonograph records by Bing Crosby of songs by Stephen Foster released in 1946.
Jane Denny McDowell Foster Wiley was born December 10, 1829. She died at the age of seventy-three in a fire on January 17, 1903 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is best known for being the wife of Stephen Foster and being the inspiration for Foster's song Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair. Her archives are located in the University of Pittsburgh.
Stephen Foster's sketchbook is the hand-written book authored by early American composer and lyricist Stephen Collins Foster. It spans a nine-year period beginning on June 26, 1851. It was donated to the University of Pittsburgh Library System by the Foster family in the early 1930s. The National History Education Clearinghouse considers it a " useful resource for those researching Foster or the history of 19th-century American music and culture."
Marion Foster was the only child of composer Stephen Collins Foster and, together with her daughter Jessie Rose, was the caretaker of the Stephen S. Foster Memorial Home located at 3600 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1914 until her death in 1935. She taught the piano and occasionally composed music.
Camptown is an unincorporated community in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, United States. The community is located at the intersection of Pennsylvania Route 409 and Pennsylvania Route 706 4.6 miles (7.4 km) north-northeast of Wyalusing. Camptown has a post office with ZIP code 18815. The town received its name from Scottish settlers, after the Scottish Borders settlement with the same name.
The song, written in 1847, soon spread throughout the country. Foster decided to become a full-time songwriter, a vocation no one had bothered to pursue until then.(subscription required)
[... Stephen Foster ...] was the most famous songwriter of the nineteenth century, and he is still the best-known American composer in many countries of the world today.