Stephen Foster

Real Name:
Stephen Collins Foster
Profile:
Known as the "Father of American music", Foster was the preeminent songwriter in the United States in the 19th century (July 4, 1826 – January 13, 1864). Mr. Foster was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

His songs — such as "Oh! Susanna", "Camptown Races", "Old Folks at Home" ("Swanee River"), "Hard Times Come Again No More", "My Old Kentucky Home", "Old Black Joe", "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair", and "Beautiful Dreamer" — remain popular over 150 years after their composition.

Foster attended private academies in Allegheny, Athens, and Towanda, Pennsylvania. He received an education in English grammar, diction, the classics, penmanship, Latin and Greek, and mathematics. In 1839, his elder brother William was serving his apprenticeship as an engineer at nearby Towanda and thought Stephen would benefit from being under his supervision. The site of the Camptown Races is 30 miles from Athens, and 15 miles from Towanda. Stephen attended Athens Academy from 1839 to 1841. Stephen's first composition, Tioga Waltz, was written while he attended Athens Academy and was performed at the 1839 commencement exercises. He was 14. It was not published during the composer's lifetime, but it is included in the collection of published works by Morrison Foster. In 1842, Athens Academy was destroyed by fire.

His education included a brief period at Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania (now Washington & Jefferson College). His tuition was paid, but Foster had little spending money. Sources conflict on whether he left willingly or was dismissed; but, either way, he left Canonsburg to visit Pittsburgh with another student and didn't return.

During his teenage years, Foster was influenced greatly by two men. Henry Kleber (1816–97), one of Stephen’s few formal music instructors, was a classically trained musician who emigrated from Darmstadt, Germany, to Pittsburgh and opened a music store. Dan Rice was an entertainer, a clown and blackface singer, making his living in traveling circuses. Although respectful of the more civilized parlor songs of the day, he and his friends would often sit at a piano, writing and singing minstrel songs through the night. Eventually, Foster would learn to blend the two genres to write some of his best work.

In 1846, Foster moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and became a bookkeeper with his brother's steamship company. While in Cincinnati, Foster penned his first successful songs, among them "Oh! Susanna" which would prove to be the anthem of the California Gold Rush in 1848–1849. In 1849, he published Foster's Ethiopian Melodies, which included the successful song "Nelly Was a Lady", made famous by the Christy Minstrels. A plaque marks the site of Foster's 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 Foster would write most of his best-known songs: "Camptown Races" (1850), "Nelly Bly" (1850), "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. Foster sought, in his own words, 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."

Although many of his songs had Southern themes, Foster never lived in the South and visited it only once, by river-boat voyage (on his brother Dunning's steam boat, the Millinger) down the Mississippi to New Orleans, during his honeymoon in 1852.

Foster attempted to make a living as a professional songwriter and may be considered innovative in this respect, since this field did not yet exist in the modern sense. Due in part to the limited scope of music copyright and composer royalties at the time, Foster realized very little of the profits which his works generated for sheet music printers. Multiple publishers often printed their own competing editions of Foster's tunes, not paying Foster anything. For "Oh, Susanna", he received $100.

Foster moved to New York City in 1860. About a year later, his wife and daughter left him and returned to Pittsburgh. Beginning in 1862, his fortunes decreased, and as they did, so did the quality of his new songs. Early in 1863, he began working with George Cooper, whose lyrics were often humorous and designed to appeal to musical theater audiences. The Civil War created a flurry of newly written music with patriotic war themes, but this did not benefit Foster.

He had become impoverished while living at the North American Hotel at 30 Bowery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York. His brother Henry described the accident that led to his death: Confined to bed for days by a persistent fever, Foster tried to call a chambermaid, but collapsed, falling against the washbasin next to his bed and shattering it, which gouged his head. It took three hours to get him to Bellevue Hospital, and in an era before transfusions and antibiotics, he succumbed three days after his admittance at the age of thirty-seven.

In his worn leather wallet, there was found a scrap of paper that simply said "Dear friends and gentle hearts" along with 35 cents in Civil War scrip and three pennies.

Foster was buried in the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh. One of his most beloved works, "Beautiful Dreamer", was published shortly after his death.
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Albums

PLP 524 Stephen Foster - Melodies album art Stephen Foster Melodies(10", Album) Pontiac (2) PLP 524 US 1951 Sell This Version
SM 3006 Stephen Foster - Melodies album art Stephen Foster Melodies(LP, Album) Joker Hi-Fi Records SM 3006 Italy 1951 Sell This Version
ARS 15, ARS-15 Stephen Foster - Village Festival album art Stephen C. Foster* Village Festival Music Treasures Of The World ARS 15, ARS-15 US 1953 Sell This Version
S-8057, 8057 Stephen Foster - A Commemoration Symphony / A Symphonic Story   album art Stephen Foster / Jerome Kern Stephen Foster / Jerome Kern - A Commemoration Symphony / A Symphonic Story (Album) World Record Club, World Record Club S-8057, 8057 Australia 1964 Sell This Version
SP 44050 Stephen Foster - The Beloved Melodies Of Stephen Foster album art Stephen Foster, Eric Rogers Chorale And Orchestra Stephen Foster, Eric Rogers Chorale And Orchestra - The Beloved Melodies Of Stephen Foster (Album) London Records SP 44050 Canada 1964 Sell This Version
8228, 8228-8229 Stephen Foster - Songs Of Stephen Foster album art Stephen Foster / The Roger Wagner Chorale Stephen Foster / The Roger Wagner Chorale - Songs Of Stephen Foster (Album) World Tape Club, World Tape Club 8228, 8228-8229 Australia 1969 Sell This Version
H-71268 Stephen Foster - Songs By Stephen Foster (1826-1864) album art Stephen Foster, Jan Degaetani, Leslie Guinn Stephen Foster, Jan Degaetani, Leslie Guinn - Songs By Stephen Foster (1826-1864)(LP, Album) Nonesuch H-71268 US 1972 Sell This Version
TV-S 34609 Stephen Foster - Stephen Foster Songs album art Stephen Foster - The Gregg Smith Singers*, The New York Vocal Arts Ensemble Stephen Foster - The Gregg Smith Singers*, The New York Vocal Arts Ensemble - Stephen Foster Songs(LP) VOX/Turnabout TV-S 34609 US 1975 Sell This Version
A-1048 Stephen Foster - Sentimental Songs Of The Mid-Nineteenth Century  album art Stephen C. Foster*, Henry Clay Work, George F. Root, The American Music Consort Stephen C. Foster*, Henry Clay Work, George F. Root, The American Music Consort - Sentimental Songs Of The Mid-Nineteenth Century (Album) Takoma A-1048 US 1976 Sell This Version
R32C-3016 Stephen Foster - Beautiful Dreamer = 夢見る人/フォスター歌曲集 album art Robert White (3), Stephen Foster Robert White (3), Stephen Foster - Beautiful Dreamer = 夢見る人/フォスター歌曲集(CD, Album) RCA R32C-3016 Japan 1987 Sell This Version
CDC 0777 7 54621 2 8 Stephen Foster - American Dreamer: Songs of Stephen Foster album art Stephen Foster, Thomas Hampson, Jay Ungar, Molly Mason, David Alpher Stephen Foster, Thomas Hampson, Jay Ungar, Molly Mason, David Alpher - American Dreamer: Songs of Stephen Foster (Album) Angel Records CDC 0777 7 54621 2 8 US 1992 Sell This Version
Troy 119 Stephen Foster - Stephen Foster Songs - Parlor & Minstrel Songs, Dance Tunes & Instrumentals album art Stephen Foster, Julianne Baird, Linda Russell, Frederick Urrey, John Van Buskirk, Ridley Enslow, Steve Schneider Stephen Foster, Julianne Baird, Linda Russell, Frederick Urrey, John Van Buskirk, Ridley Enslow, Steve Schneider - Stephen Foster Songs - Parlor & Minstrel Songs, Dance Tunes & Instrumentals(CD, Album) Albany Records Troy 119 US 1994 Sell This Version
8.559124 Stephen Foster - Foster For Brass album art Stephen Foster, The Chestnut Brass Company Stephen Foster, The Chestnut Brass Company - Foster For Brass(CD, Album) Naxos 8.559124 USA & Canada 2004 Sell This Version
CXS-72 Stephen Foster - Songs Of Stephen Foster In Swing Time album art Stephen Foster Songs Of Stephen Foster In Swing Time(LP, Album) Coronet Records CXS-72 US Unknown Sell This Version
C-2 Stephen Foster - The Music Of Stephen Foster album art Stephen Foster The Music Of Stephen Foster(4xShellac, 12", Album, RE) Victor C-2 US Unknown Sell This Version
ML 4099 Stephen Foster - Nelson Eddy In Songs Of Stephen Foster album art Nelson Eddy, Stephen Foster Nelson Eddy, Stephen Foster - Nelson Eddy In Songs Of Stephen Foster Columbia Masterworks ML 4099 US Unknown Sell This Version
RLP-1020 Stephen Foster - Plantation Melodies album art Stephen Foster Plantation Melodies Festival Records, Remington, Remington RLP-1020 US Unknown Sell This Version
LS-397 Stephen Foster - Music Of Debussy, Brahms, Bartók & Foster album art Debussy*, Brahms*, Bartók*, Foster*, Trevor Stephenson Debussy*, Brahms*, Bartók*, Foster*, Trevor Stephenson - Music Of Debussy, Brahms, Bartók & Foster(CD) Light & Shadow LS-397 US Unknown Sell This Version
H-71268 Stephen Foster - Songs By Stephen Foster (1826-1864) album art Stephen Foster, Jan Degaetani, Leslie Guinn Stephen Foster, Jan Degaetani, Leslie Guinn - Songs By Stephen Foster (1826-1864)(LP, Album, RP, Gat) Nonesuch H-71268 US Unknown Sell This Version
VL 2620 Stephen Foster - His Story And His Music album art Stephen Foster His Story And His Music(10", Album) VOX (6) VL 2620 US Unknown Sell This Version
HE 1002 Stephen Foster - Civil War Songs - Ballads, Patriotic Songs, Laments album art Stephen Foster, Linda Russell, Rudolph Palmer, Rooke Chapel Choir* Stephen Foster, Linda Russell, Rudolph Palmer, Rooke Chapel Choir* - Civil War Songs - Ballads, Patriotic Songs, Laments(CD, Album) Helicon Classics HE 1002 US Unknown Sell This Version

Singles & EPs

EPA 329 Stephen Foster - Harpo Marx - Harp by Harpo      album art Hoagy Carmichael, Vincent Youmans, Gerda Beilenson, Harpo Marx, Stephen Foster Hoagy Carmichael, Vincent Youmans, Gerda Beilenson, Harpo Marx, Stephen Foster - Harpo Marx - Harp by Harpo (7", EP, Mono) RCA Victor EPA 329 Chile 1952 Sell This Version
WH051 Stephen Foster - Leaving It Up To You album art Stephen Foster Leaving It Up To You(7", Single) Whitehorse Records WH051 US 1979 Sell This Version
Album 15 Stephen Foster - Stephen Foster Melodies Volume 1 album art Frank Luther (2), The Lyn Murray Quartet, Stephen Foster Frank Luther (2), The Lyn Murray Quartet, Stephen Foster - Stephen Foster Melodies Volume 1 (Album) Decca Album 15 US Unknown Sell This Version
P-7 Stephen Foster - Compton Races / O Suzanna! album art Glenn Cross & His Orchestra, Stephen Foster Glenn Cross & His Orchestra, Stephen Foster - Compton Races / O Suzanna!(7") Pixie (5) P-7 Unknown Sell This Version