Stephen Collins Foster

Stephen Collins Foster, 1826–64, American songwriter and composer, b. Lawrenceville, Pa. His pioneer family was aware of his talent for music, but not understanding it they provided him with little formal musical education. Foster's knowledge of African Americans was drawn from minstrel shows, particularly E. P. Christy's troupe, for which many of his songs were written. Because of their utter simplicity, his black dialect songs are often thought of as folk music. Feeling that prejudice against these "Ethiopian songs" existed, he was at first unwilling to risk his reputation by having his name appear on them. He had little aptitude for business, and his income was never commensurate with the popularity of his songs. Excessive drinking and extreme poverty ruined his last years. He died in Bellevue Hospital, New York City. Although his work was occasionally banal, the songs that have remained popular, such as Oh! Susannah (1848), Camptown Races (1850), Old Folks at Home (1851), My Old Kentucky Home (1853), Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair (1854), and Old Black Joe (1860), are unpretentious and genuine.

See biographies by J. T. Howard (rev. ed. 1962) and K. Emerson (1997); M. Foster, My Brother Stephen (1932); E. F. Morneweck, Chronicles of Stephen Foster's Family (2 vol., 1944, repr. 1973).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Stephen Collins Foster: Selected full-text books and articles

Chronicles of Stephen Foster's Family By Evelyn Foster Morneweck University of Pittsburgh Press, vol.1, 1944
A Pittsburgh Composer and His Memorial By Fletcher Hodges Jr Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 1938
Music in the New World By Charles Hamm Norton, 1983
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Stephen Foster and Indigenous American Song"
Yesterdays: Popular Song in America By Charles Hamm W. W. Norton, 1979
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Ten "'Old Folks at Home'; or, the Songs of Stephen Foster"
American Popular Music and Its Business: The First Four Hundred Years, from 1790-1909 By Russell Sanjek Oxford University Press, vol.2, 1988
Librarian’s tip: "Stephen Collins Foster" begins on p. 72
Popular American Composers from Revolutionary Times to the Present: A Biographical and Critical Guide By David H. Ewen; David H. Ewen H. W. Wilson, 1962
Librarian’s tip: "Stephen Foster 1826-1864" begins on p. 62
The Voices That Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song By Jon W. Finson Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Stephen Collins Foster begins on p. 33
Tin Pan Alley: A Chronicle of the American Popular Music Racket By Isaac Goldberg John Day, 1930
Librarian’s tip: "The Vagrom Foster" begins on p. 43
FREE! Catalogue of First Editions of Stephen C. Foster (1826-1864) By Walter R. Whittlesey; O. G. Sonneck Govt. Print. Off., 1915
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